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I. On Understanding Poverty: Perspectives from the Social Sciences 
Edited by Daniel P. Moynihan 

11. On Fighting Poverty: Perspectives from Experience 
Edited by James L. Sundquist 

Volumes in the American Academy 
of Arts and Sciences Library 


On Understanding Poverty 


Edited by 


with the assistance of Corinne Saposs Schelling 

Basic Booh, Inc., Publishers 


(c) ig68, 1969 by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 

library of Congress Catalog Card Number; 71-78451 

Cloth; SBN 465-05256-8 

Paper; SBN 465~05255-X 

Manufactured in the United States of America 

Fourth Printing 

The members of the 

American Academy of Arts and Sciences 
Seminar on Race and Poverty 
respectfully dedicate this work 
and its companion volume to 
Marlin Luther King, Jr. 



Robert Francis Kennedy 


Fe^v ideas are correct ones, and tvhat are 
correct no one can ascertain; but with 
words we govern men. 

BENJAMIN DiSRAEU, ContarM Fleming 

^ The Authors 

Zahava D. Blum is Research Assodate at the Department of Social 
Relations and at the Center for the Study of the Social Organization of 
Schools, The Johns Hopkins University, where she is also co-director 
of a research program entitled: "Education and Sodal Change: The 
Development of a System of Sodal Accounts.” 

Otis Dudley Duncan, Professor of Sociology and Assodate Direc- 
tor, Population Studies Center, University of Michigan, is co-author 
(with Peter M. Blau) of The American Occupational Structure and co- 
author (with Beverly Duncan) of The Negro Population of Chicago. 

Marc Fried is Research Professor, Institute of Human Sciences, Bos- 
ton College, and was Director of the Institute. He has had extensive 
experience as a psychologist. Chapters by him are regularly included in 
books on the urban condition and renewal. 

Herbert J. Cans is Visiting Professor of Sociology, Columbia Uni- 
versity. His major publications are The Urban Villagers, The Levit- 
towners, and People and Plans: Essays on Urban Problems and Solu- 
tions. He has been Senior Staff Sodologist for the Center for Urban 

Oscar Lewis, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois, 
is author of numerous articles and books including Five Families, The 
Children of Sanchez, Pedro Martinez, and La Vida. 

S. M. Miller is Professor of Education and Sociology at New York 
University and Program Adviser in Sodal Development at the Ford 
Foundation. He is the co-editor (with Frank Riessman) of Social 
Class and Social Policy. He is author of Comparative Social Mobility 
and other books. 

Walter Miller, Research Associate, Joint Center for Urban Studies, 
is author of City Gangs (forthcoming) and many artides. He was 
Director of the Roxbury Delinquency Research Project. 

xii The Authors 

Daniel P. MoYNiHANison leave as Professor of Education and 
Urban Politics at Harvard University and was formerly Director of the 
Joint Center for Urban Studies. He was Assistant Secretary of Labor 
for Policy Planning and Research, 1963 to 1965 and is currently serving 
as Assistant for Urban Affairs to President Nixon. He is author of 
Maximum Feasible Misunderstanding. 

Lee Rainwater is Professor of Sodology at Washington University 
and a Research Associate in the Social Science Institute there. He is 
Senior Editor of Trans-Action. He has svritten The Moynihan Report 
and the Politics of Controversy, And the Poor Get Children, and Work- 
ingman’s Wife. 

Pamela Roby is a doctoral candidate and Research Assistant in the 
Department of Sociology at New York University. She is currently 
working on a study of perception of the distribution of resources and 
is co-author of several articles ivith S. M. Miller. 

Gerald Rosenthal, Associate Professor of Economics at Brandeis 
University, is Senior Associate of the Organization for Social and 
Technical Innovation (OSTI) . Much of his work has been in medical 
economics. He is author of “The Operating Structure of the Medical 
Care System — an Overview” for the Joint Economic Committee in 
A Compendium on Human Resources. 

Peter H. Rossi is Professor and Chairman of the Department of 
Social Relations, The Johns Hopkins University. He was Director of 
the National Opinion Research Center, University of Chicago. He is 
author of Why Families Move and The Politics of Urban Renewal 
among other books. 

Stephan Thernstrom is Associate Professor of History, Brandeis 
University, and a member of the Joint Center for Urban Studies. His 
books include Poverty, Planning, and Politics in the New Boston and 
Poverty and Progress: Social Mobility in a ipth Century City. 

Harold Watts, Director of the Institute for Research on Poverty, 
and Professor of Economics, University of Wisconsin, served as econ- 
omist, Division of Research and Plans, Office of Economic Opportunity, 
1965 to 1966. 

^ Preface 


It is a pleasure, on behalf of the Council, officers, and staff of the 
American Academy of Arts and Sciences, to tvrite a brief preface to 
this volume of studies on poverty in the United States. Its publica- 
tion is the result of the first continuing seminar of the Academy deal- 
ing tvith American domestic problems. 

The genesis of this study of poverty may be of interest to the 
reader. In the years 1963 and 1964, at the height of the newly revived 
civil rights movement, Daedalus, the journal of the Academy, initi- 
ated a project for a comprehensive sun'ey of knowledge and opin- 
ion about the status of the Negro American. This project fol- 
lowed the common Daedalus pattern of calling togetlter a group of 
knowledgeable and representative people for a planning conference, 
commissioning papers to be -written, and holding a second larger 
conference for discussion of the draft papers. In this case it proved, 
however, to be a larger than usual undertaking and the immediate 
result consisted in two large issues of Daedalus (Fall 1965 and 
Winter 1966). In the second of tlie two the unusual course was fol- 
lowed of publishing most of the actual transcript of the discussion 
of the second conference. Most of this material, with a few additions, 
was subsequently republished in 1966 in die Daedalus Library in the 
volume entitled The Negro American.^ 

During the course of this study it became evident that the focus 
of the problem of the Negro was rapidly shifting to the urban North 
and that this shift was rapidly accentuating the intricate interlacing 
of the problems of race with those of poverty. Daniel P. Moynihan 
had been an active participant in the Negro-American study and was 
prevailed upon to assume, as chairman, the responsibility for or- 
ganizing a continuing “seminar” on Problems of Race and Poverty. 
This group met for a day and a half once a month during the aca- 
demic year 1966-1967. 

xiv Preface 

The present volume, and its companion, edited by James Sund- 
quist of The Brookings Institution, include the main fruits of these 
meetings, papers presented to the seminar and revised after dis- 
cussion within the group. The first volume deals with theoretical 
aspects of the nature of poverty; the second with the development 
of federal anti-poverty policy. The editors and contributors to the 
two volumes would be the last to claim that they have presented 
a solution to the problem of poverty. In fact, the reader will observe 
considerable differences of opinion among the various authors. They 
have, however, certainly contributed to the description and clarifica- 
tion, on an interdisciplinary basis, of some of the issues which are 
currently being and will continue to be faced in working toward not 
one, but the necessary variety of solutions. This represents a con- 
siderable step in the mobilization of the resources of social science 
to provide a solid basis in empirical knowledge and theoretical anal- 
ysis so urgently required in tliis area of public policy. 

Perhaps then the Academy's initiative in this area can serve 
at the least a gadfly function. As an organization it has certain spe- 
cial advantages. It is not saddled with specific policy formulation 
or with operating responsibilities with all the attendant constrictions 
involved. Also, it does not "represent,” in an activist political sense 
any of the groups with primary interests in the problem. It does, 
however, have contact with such expertise, in the academic as well 
as nonacademic world, as our society commands, not only in current 
knowledge about the problems, but also in potential for developing 
better methodology and more useful knowledge than is now avail- 
able. If a substantial contribution in this direction has been made, 
the Academy will, I feel sure, consider its sponsorship of tliis enter- 
prise to have been well worthwhile. 

This volume and its companion inaugurate a new American 
Academy Library. A second phase of the seminar on poverty is now 
in progress: a series of conferences on four subjects relating to pov- 
erty which appeared to require further careful study. These are 
urban transportation, the question of income, evaluation of social- 
action programs, and social stratification. These conferences may 
lead to further books in the new Academy Library. 


I. Talcott Parsons and Kenneth B. Clark, eds., The Negro American (Boston: 
Houghton-Mifllin, ig66). 

^ Contents 

1 The Professors and the Poor daniel p. moynihan ^ 

2 ClasSj Status, and Poverty peter h. rossi and zahava d. 

BLUM 36 

3 Poverty: Changing Social Stratification s. m. miller and 


4 Inheritance of Poverty or Inheritance of Race? 


5 Deprivation and Migration: Dilemmas of Causal Interpre- 

tation MARC FRIED 111 

6 Poverty in Historical Perspective stephan thernstrom 160 

7 The Culture of Poverty oscar lewis 187 

8 Culture and Class in the Study of Poverty: An Approach to 

Anti-Poverty Research Herbert j. cans 201 

9 The Problem of Lower-Class Culture and Poverty-War 

Strategy lee rainwater 229 

10 The Elimination of the American Lower Class as National 
Policy: A Critique of the Ideology of the Poverty Move- 
ment of the 1960s Walter miller 260 

xviii Contents 

11 An Economic Definition of Poverty Harold watts 

12 Identifying the Poor: Economic Measures of Poverty 


Appendix: Social Class Research and Images of the Poor: A 
Bibliographic Review zahava d. blum and peter h. rossi 34$ 

Bibliography 399 

Index 419 

On Understanding Poverty 

^ The Professors and the Poor 


At about the time the chapters of this volume were making their final 
round among the members of the American Academy seminar, at 
which their contents were presented, an almost chance encounter 
with a Negro poverty worker from the Roxbury section of Boston 
somehow compressed the themes of the preceding twenty months of 
analysis into a quarter hour’s conversation. The lady in question 
came to see me at the Joint Center for Urban Studies, directed to me 
by a liberal business executive who had thought I might be of help in 
her effort to raise a quite large sum of money to establish a cultural 
center for the disadvantaged. I was not especially sanguine and said 
as much: The federal poverty program was then being cut back 
rather than enlarged, redirected toward employment as against com- 
munity programs. My visitor’s reaction, however, was not one of resig- 
nation, but of exasperation. Once again, or so it appeared to her, the 
demands of the black community were being rejected by the white 
power structure, in this case represented by me. In the manner of 
professors, I resorted to reason: Was it not the case, I asked, that a 
very considerable number of poverty programs had been begun in 
Roxbury in recent years? (The Boston Globe was shortly to publish a 
special supplement describing 262 such programs spread about the 
city as a whole.) “Exactly,” came the retort, “but do you notice they 
only fund programs that don’t succeed?” 

This chapter was prepared for a seminar of the American Academy of Arts and 
Sciences, and all rights to it are reserved by the Academy. It has been published 
in the August 1968 issue of Commentary. 

4 Thi Professorj and the Poor 

There in a few sentences were summariEed the events of the 
preceding five years: the transformation of the war on poverty from a 
program concerned generally with the poor, to one understood to be 
primarily for Negroes (or blacks, as some members of the group 
increasingly insist they be designated) ; the proliferation of projects; 
the constant association of such projects with academic activists and 
academic conceptions such as "disadvantage” and "culture”; the 
precipitous rise of dissatisfaction with the program in the Congress, 
followed by restrictions in funding; the attendant rise of Negro mili- 
tancy and hostility, accompanied by increasing sophistication (note 
the Bureau of the Budget verb “to fund") and fiercely asserted inde- 
pendence, but also a not less strongly held conviction that power 
continues to reside in a concealed, but ruthless and disciplined, free- 
masonry of the white elite. In the course of the conversation, the 
suggestion that the junior United States Senator from Massachusetts 
— a Negro — might be of help was dismissed, whereas it was readily 
agreed that his tvhite colleague, howsoever out of favor with the 
incumbent President, would be a man of great potential influence on 
behalf of the undertaking. (Some might argue that my visitor’s 
being a woman would suggest the further theme of the matriarchal 
nature of lotver-class communities, but the female hegemony in cul- 
tural affairs in Boston has persisted so long that it has doubtless 
become a subculture all its own that alloivs for no endogenous infer- 
ences. Nor will the reader be surprised to learn that, nothing if not 
indomitable, she eventually got her center, although witliout public 

My visitor had also elicited the essential themes of tliis volume, 
most especially the painful truth that a great national effort, so 
bravely begun not four years earlier, was by tlien widely deemed to 
have failed; and that American professors and intellectuals, having 
been so much involved with launching tlie initiative, were somehow 
implicated in that failure. 

The question of failure must be put aside. It refers at best to a 
mood of the moment — and within the seminar, hardly a unanimous 
one — and not at all to anything that might be thought of as "facts.” 
The success or failure of the Great Society’s \var on poverty is a 
question for historians, and the final verdict may be very different 
from the perception of the moment, not only as to what happened 
but as to what was relevant. Is it not, for example, possible that a 
twenty-second century Namier tracing the lives of those who influ- 
enced history in the decades either side of the year 2000 will conclude 

5 Daniel P. Moynihan 

that early personal experiences in the poverty program of the John- 
son administration had profoundly affected the process of personal 
formation that led to their later influence? But, for the present mo- 
ment, the confidence of many persons in the nation’s ability to 
master the congeries of social, economic, regional, and racial prob- 
lems that were subsumed under the heading poverty in the winter 
and spring of 1964 has been badly shaken,^ 

This is not a judgment directed solely to the Office of Eco- 
nomic Opportunity (OEO) . On the contrary, as Richard Rovere 
has noted, “The new federal agencies set up to deal with the distress 
of the cities — the Office of Economic Opportunity, the Department of 
Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transporta- 
tion — have turned in generally disappointing performances.” But 
OEO, having got so much more than its share of the publicity, has 
attracted an equivalent proportion of the second thoughts. But worse 
than to be blamed in Washington is to be ignored, and as 1968 wore 
on, there were unmistakable signs that OEO itself was going tlirough 
that institutional change of life that had come so prematurely and 
cruelly to so many of the bold enterprises of the 1960s. The pattern 
was by tlien almost a fixed one: the bright new idea, the netv agency, 
the White House swearing in of the first agency head followed by a 
shaky beginning, the departure twenty-four months later of the first 
agency head to be replaced by his deputy, the gradual slipping from 
sight, a Budget Bureau reorganization, name change, a new head, 
this time from the civil service, and slowly obscurity covers all. In 
the spring of 1968, the irrepressible Sargent Shriver left as director of 
OEO, to be replaced by his deputy, a competent, even a distin- 
guished political executive, but essentially an anonymous one, with 
strong connections to the Bureau of the Budget. As the 1968 political 
campaign became heated, new proposals for dealing with poverty 
began to flow forth from the candidates, almost all of whom began 
with the assumption that existing programs did not add up to much. 
When, in May of 1968, the Southern Christian Leadership Council’s 
Poor People's March” made its way to Washington and encamped 
on the Mall, it was as if they were lobbying for the establishment of 
an OEO: That one existed seemed almost unknown, or at best unac- 
knowledged. Something, somewhere, had gone wrong. Rather, many 
things had gone wrong. This volume, and the one to accompany it, 
edited by James L. Sundquist, is an effort to suggest some of the 
sources of difficulty, both conceptual and operational, while at the 
same time looking to more promising options open to the nation, still 

6 The Professors and the Poor 

committed, in Daniel Bell's phrase, to a policy of deliberate social 

For the War on Poverty — ^rather like the war in Vietnam — was 
pre-eminently the conception of the liberal, policy oriented intellec- 
tuals, especially those who gathered in Washington, and in a signifi- 
cant sense came to power, in the early 1960s under the Presidency of 
John F, Kennedy, Kennedy’s Presidential campaign had propounded 
a fairly radical critique of American society. The Eisenhower era had 
not been barren of government initiatives, but even when these were 
of massive dimensions, as in the case of the Interstate Defense and 
Highway Program, they had tended to be directed toward the needs 
and interests of the middle classes of Americans, with the concomi- 
tant inference that other, more pressing needs did not in fact exist. 
In considerable measure, the intellectual community accepted this 
assertion and directed its energies largely to deploring the uses of 
mass embourgeoisement. Affluence, indeed, became the master term 
for the period, such, for example, that when John Kenneth Galbraith 
devoted a book to that subject, his trenchant discussion therein of the 
persistence of poverty was all but ignored. 

Kennedy changed that: in part, because he was a Democrat and 
by definition involved with the sources of Democratic strength and 
the tradition of Democratic concern; in part, also, because he was a 
Roman Catholic. This had forced him to make the crucial test of the 
campaign for the Presidential nomination the primary contest in 
Protestant West Virginia, where a decent, but impotent, people of 
impeccable pioneer origin were sloivly, and ivithout protest, sinking 
into the slag heaps they had too willingly piled up to make money 
for other men. Commitments were made in West Virginia and, just 
as important, impressions Avere gained that remained Avith the Ken- 
nedy administration throughout. But beyond these essentially politi- 
cal influences, there arose at this time an element of intellectual 
influence, deriving from the Avorld of little magazines and large uni- 
versities of the kind that abound on the eastern seaboard, (Much in 
the manner that those Avho least approve and those Avho most ap- 
prove suppose to be the easel) In particular, tAvo clusters of intellec- 
tual concerns came to bear on tlie problems of poverty. The first 
derived from the world of political economy. At the time John F. 
Kennedy took office, more men were out of Avork in the United States 
than at any time since the Great Depression. Kennedy’s concern "to 
get America moving again" was perhaps primarily a concern to re- 

7 Daniel P. Moynihan 

gain a satisfactory level of economic growth and to reduce the quite 
intolerable levels of unemployment that persisted, and even rose, in 
the period following the Korean War. A second cluster of concerns 
derived from the world of sociology, criminology, and social psychol- 
ogy and were concerned, essentially, with the problem of deviant 
behavior. It will be recalled — or will it? — that the issue on which 
Senator Kennedy and his next youngest brother came to national 
attention in the 1950s was that of trade-union corruption and orga- 
nized crime — conservative-type issues, if anything. Certainly they 
were issues that directed attention to the seamy and disreputable side 
of working-class and lower-class behavior, hardly tending to convey 
any exalted notion of a redemptive proletariat purified by suffering. 
Both sets of concern were much in evidence in the legislative pro- 
gram of the Kennedy years, most notably in the emergence of the 
“new economics” and its concern for employment and economic 
growth, in legislation such as the Manpower Development and 
Training Act of 1962, and in the establishment of the President’s 
Committee on Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime, which be- 
came almost a personal project of the President’s brother. Attorney 
General Robert F. Kennedy. If the minimum wage legislation of 
1961, with its emphasis on the low-paid Democratic voter (Negro 
washerwomen were a group specifically at issue) , and the Area Rede- 
velopment Act of the same year, with its emphasis on Appalachia, 
responded to the political themes of the administration and perhaps 
received greater public notice, these intellectual themes were not less 
in evidence and in ways were closer to the hearts of the purposeful 
and proud men then guiding the nation in their brief authority. 

The political economy — the "new economics” — of the Kennedy 
era worked, or that at least must be our assumption, and in working 
provided perhaps the most impressive demonstration of the capacity 
of organized intelligence to forecast and direct events that has yet 
occurred in American government of the present era. If the fiscal and 
monetary policies that began at that time can be judged a social 
experiment, the conclusion is hard to escape that it would seem to be 
one of the few — certainly the only one of its size — that really can be 
said to have worked out as predicted. To be sure, events broke 
“with” the administration. The month Kennedy took office, the 
economy turned upward, beginning the unprecedented expansion 
that is now, as I write, in its eighth year. Kennedy’s task here was 
essentially to sustain and then accelerate a movement that had begun 

8 The Professors and the Poor 

on its own. This was not the case with the issue of deviant behavior. 
In at least a general sense, that problem probably worsened during 
this period — events were not on their own moving with the adminis- 
tration — but, paradoxically, concern for them appeared to recede. 
Juvenile delinquency and youth crime, for example, had been strong 
issues in the 1950s. Of a sudden, seemingly, they were no longer. 
Fashions change. Even so, the problem persisted; further, when un- 
employment, especially among Negroes, failed to recede in measure 
as the economy expanded, it, too, began to acquire certain overtones 
of deviancy. The “hard-core” unemployed either acted differently, 
were treated differently, or both. Something beyond macro-economic 
measures was required. Yet, somehow it was not forthcoming. This 
was a failure, in the proper sense of the term, of rhetoric. Kennedy 
was unable to impress upon the nation either the validity or the 
urgency of his administration’s concern in this area. Thus, a bill that 
brought many of these strands together, the Youth Employment Act, 
was given the highest priority in the administration’s legislative pro- 
gram; a bill any legislator might be presumed to favor, it somehow 
could not pass the House of Representatives. In effect, the Kennedy 
administi'ation was making the first, tentative, groping efforts of the 
federal government to involve itself with the question of the “life 
style” of lower-class persons. With the long-dominant problems of 
cyclical economics gradually coming under control, the energies of 
government were turning to those persons who, for myriad reasons, 
lived lives of seeming permanent depression. 

Some work in this area had already begun. Walter W. Heller, 
Chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, had raised the sub- 
ject with President Kennedy in December 1962, and in the spring of 

1963 sent him a memorandum prepared by the redoubtable Robert 
Lampman. It was in this context that the President’s advisers, in the 
fall of 1963, began to shape the issue of poverty as a central theme for 
the campaign of 1964, an effort that would begin with the sequence 
of Presidential messages and proposals in the early months of the 
year. On October 30, 1963, IValter W. Heller wote to the relevant 
members of the Cabinet informing them that Theodore Sorenson had 
asked the council “to pull together for the President’s consideration a 
set of measures which might be woven into a basic attack on the 
problems of poverty and waste of human resources, as part of the 

1964 legislative program.” 

On October 29, a council staff memorandum that spelled out 
the anticipated strategy had been prepared. It read in part: 

9 Daniel P. Moynihan 






The Poverty Cycle 

Cultural and environmental 
obstacles to motivation 


Poor health, and inadequate 
education, and low mobility 
limiting earning potential 

The sources of poverty are not listed in chronological sequence. The vicious 
cycle, in which poverty breeds poverty, occurs through time, and transmits 
its effects from one generation to another. There is no beginning to the 
cycle, no end. There is, therefore, no one “right” place to break into it: 
increasing opportunities may help little if health, educational attainments 
and motivation are unsuitable; making more education available may bear 
little fruit unless additional employment opportunities exist; altering ad- 
verse environmental factors may not be feasible or effective unless access to 
education and ultimately job opportunities is enhanced. 

Programs to attack each of the three principal stages in the poverty 
cycle may be directed at one or more of three levels: (i) prevent the prob- 
lem from developing, (2) rehabilitate the person who has been hurt, and 
(g) ameliorate the difficulties of persons for whom prevention or rehabilita- 
tion are not feasible. Each type of "treatment” is associated generally with 
a separate stage in the life cycle. Prevention of poverty calls for attention 
principally to youngsters (and to their parents, insofar as parents’ attitudes 
and values affect the children) . Rehabilitation of those missed by preventive 
efforts, or for whom these efforts were ineffective, seems best designed for 
adults in their productive work years. Amelioration of poverty seems called 
for in the case of the aged, the physically and mentally disabled, and those 
for whom prevention and rehabilitation are ineffective. 

This was government staff work at its best: systematic, compre- 
hensive, candid, practical, and optimistic. The administration was 
setting about its business in the manner of men who purpose to 
control events. Within weeks, of course, the nation spun wildly out of 
control as madness for the moment seized the levers of power and the 
President was assassinated. All the more, in the aftermath, was the 
desire to reassert the powers of rationality, and this had the effect, if 
anything, of intensifying the pace of the developing poverty program. 
The theme was attractive to the New Deal, populistic style of Presi- 
dent Johnson, who, in the immediate aftermath of the assassination, 
directed that planning the poverty program proceed as a matter of 
administrative priority. Just as importantly, the effort provided a 

10 The Professors and the Poor 

focus for the energies and emotions of the stricken men Kennedy had 
left behind. Much as it is said that German businessmen, in the ruins 
of postwar Europe, found in knuckle-whitening ivork an anodyne for 
memories they had to leave behind, so in a not different way the 
survivors of Kennedy’s thousand days threw themselves into this 
effort, which became for them an assertion that they had indeed got 
the country moving again and that it would keep moving. 

In the State of the Union Message of 1964, Richard Goodwin, 
who was to have been appointed special assistant for the arts on 
Kennedy’s return from Dallas, turned his powerful pen to a sterner 
subject, and the new President spoke the words, even as he had 
prescribed their intent: “This administration today, here and now, 
declares unconditional war on poverty in America.’’ 

But already troubles were appearing. It was one thing to propose 
to do away with poverty; it was another to determine how to do so 
and yet another to find the resources and persuade the Congress to 
authorize the effort. Here the legacy of Kennedy’s difficulties with 
Congress and the advent of the Johnson manner, with its justified 
pride and preoccupation with legislative maneuver, moved matters 
much too precipitously from phrase-making to vote-trading, with 
ominously little attention paid in between to the question of what 
exactly was the problem to be solved. 

On taking office. President Johnson had found the Council of 
Economic Advisers and the White House staff in a state of some 
confusion and even deadlock brought about by the conflicting desires 
of the various Cabinet departments concerned to see their e.xisting 
legislative programs given priority in the new package. It was one 
thing to outline a general strategy of intervention as the Council of 
Economic Advisers memorandum had done. It was another to state 
precisely the form and manner of the intervention, to assign respon- 
sibility for it, and to decide what level of resources would be re- 
quired. Thus, for example, the Department of Labor, which was the 
“sponsor” of the Youth Employment Act, viewed employment pro- 
grams as the master %veapon to be used against poverty, discrimina- 
tion, technological change, juvenile delinquency, or whatever the 
most fashionable formulation of the moment happened to be. Just 
three days before the State of the Union Message, the department 
had presented to the President the report of the Task Force on Man- 
power Utilization, entitled “One-Third of a Nation,” which Kennedy 
had established the preceding August to analyze the extraordinarily 
high Selective Service rejection rates, with the hope of producing 

11 Daniel P. Moynihan 

evidence in support of his youth-employment proposals. The report 
had succeeded in that, if nothing else, and was one of the few data 
sources on which the emerging poverty program could draiv. (The 
study revealed, for example, the extraordinarily high rates of Negro 
failure on the mental test, the great importance of family size for all 
races, and the sharp differences in rejection rates not only between 
races but between different regions of the nation.) But other depart- 
ments had their own formulations. Most importantly, the Council of 
Economic Advisers and the Bureau of the Budget had become strong 
proponents of a proposal that had emerged from the President’s 
Committee on Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime to organize 
the new effort around the essentially neiv concept of "community- 
action programs.” Through the President’s Committee, headed by 
the Attorney General, federal funds were already supporting a num- 
ber of these programs on a "demonstration” basis. The idea of com- 
munity action was in one sense the purest product of academia and 
the Ford Foundation. Its underlying propositions concerning oppor- 
tunity structure and anomie constituted a systematic theory as to the 
origins and cures, if not of poverty, at least of juvenile delinquency. 
Moreover, in making its way through the maze of the Executive 
Office Building it had acquired a managerial gloss that — ■while never 
fully, or even partially, intended by its original sponsors — nonethe- 
less proved decisive in its adoption by the mandarins of the Budget 
Bureau. Community action was originally seen as a means of shaping 
unorganized and even disorganized city dwellers into a coherent and 
self-conscious group, if necessary by techniques of protest and opposi- 
tion to established authority. Somehosv, however, the higher civil 
service came to see it as a means for coordinating at the community 
level the array of conflicting and overlapping departmental programs 
that proceeded from Washington in seemingly ever-increasing num- 
bers, legislative stalemates to the contrary not^vithstanding.- In this 
situation. President Johnson appointed Sargent Shriver, Director of 
the Peace Corps, to head a "White House task force to make peace and 
assemble a program. 

Thus the poverty task force inherited a series of intellectual 
views — and conflicts. First was the generalized judgment of the Ken- 
nedy era that America tvas not performing at anything like the level 
of ^vhich it was capable, whetlier measured in the material terms of 
gross national product or the abstractions of world leadership. To 
this was added an overlay of Johnsonian populism, svith its concern 
for the plight of tliose “peckenvood” boys in the hill countrj'. Along 

12 The Professors and the Poor 

with this came the now well-established concern ^sdth problems of 
unemplo)'ment, udth its increasing corpus of statistical and analytic 
material. To this there t\'as now added the assertion that the prob- 
lems of lotver-class individuals required clianges in the social struc- 
ture and their perception of it, and the further, bolder assertion that 
these changes could be deliberately induced by means of group ac- 
tion. It Avould be inacourate to state that the Shriver task force was 
unatvare of these divergent vietvs or that it was insensitive to them. 
But it had not the least interest in producing anything like an intel- 
lectual sjmthesis. This was in measure a reflection of Sluiver himself, 
a man of “infectious energy" to quote The New York Times — truly 
one of the rare temperaments of the era — but tvith no taste and little 
patience for abstractions such as lay behind the community-action 
concept. Time, moreover, was short — the group did its work in about 
eight tveeks. But, most importantly, the primary attention of all con- 
cerned was on the problem and — as the nation's reaction to tlie assas- 
sination became more clear — the real prospect of getting a program 
through the Congress. For the grief and shock of the assassination was 
followed — ^rather like the euphoria, even merriment, tliat will break 
out at a reception following the return of a funeral cortege — by an 
atmosphere in Washington of opening possibilities and widening ex- 
pectations. Far from assembling a massive, in a sense defiant, program 
designed to affront and indict the Congress with its otvn untvilling- 
ness to act, the task force increasingly submitted to the discipline of 
political realism as it became evident that this was a bill that tvas 
going to be passed. 

The concept of consensus took over, Shriver busied himself 
touching every conceivable power base — especially in the business 
community — while his associates in effect put together a poverty bill 
that included some part at least of just about everything that any 
department or agency had seriously put forth, (Especially attractive 
were measures for •which budgetary provision had already been made, 
so that they were, in effect, already paid for.) Pride of place was given 
to the Labor Department's Youth Employment Act, which, with 
minor changes, became Title I of the proposed bill. The Community 
Action Program, wliich the Council of Economic Advisers and the 
Bureau of the Budget had originally envisaged as the entire poverty 
package, became Title II. Other departments followed, pretty much 
in order of precedence. 

The resulting program, sent to the Congress March i6, 1964, 
thus represented not a choice among policies so much as a collection 

13 Daniel P. Moynihan 

of them. Nothing of consequence had been added to the congeries of 
proposals that had been handed over to the Shriver group. This 
result was, if anything, emphasized by the fact that Shriver had tried 
to add one major new element to the program and had failed. The 
one element that might have been expected to be a central feature of 
any large scale anti-poverty effort but was nonetheless absent from 
any of the departmental proposals was that of an adult-employment 
program. Public works — ^jobs — has for a century or more been a pri- 
mary governmental response to problems of this kind. Within the 
Shriver task force, the case for an "employment strategy” was made 
with some vigor and little opposition. As a result, the final package, 
which Shriver presented to a meeting of the Cabinet early in March, 
provided for a special five-cent tax on cigarettes to be earmarked for 
an employment program for the poor.® The tax originally proposed 
by Senator Gaylord Nelson of Wisconsin was calculated to produce 
something like 1.25 billion dollars per year. The Council of Eco- 
nomic Advisers had been anything but enthusiastic about the pro- 
posal. It was a regressive tax, the council argued, that would destroy 
almost as many jobs as it would create, and with no guarantee that 
the newly created jobs would be "on” the poverty target. (The coun- 
cil staff was at this time especially impressed by analyses of the Ac- 
celerated Public Works Program of the Kennedy administration that 
showed the various projects to have had only a minor effect on hard- 
core unemployment.) Even the most optimistic Labor Department 
analysis suggested a net increase of only 50,000 to go,ooo jobs. 
Shriver, however, believed that through various multiplier effects and 
other devices, a much higher number could be achieved, as much 
indeed as 500,000 jobs "on target.” But the President would have 
none of it. The Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, 
he explained, was against earmarking. Besides, 1964 was the year for 
cutting taxes — the great Revenue Act of 1964 proposed by Kennedy 
in the spring of 1963 was then on its way to enactment; to propose 
simultaneously to increase taxes was no way to handle the Congress. 

The matter ended there, without protest and with no public 
knowledge. Yet, it was in ways a decisive decision. Short of its provi- 
sion for the employment of adult men, the War on Poverty unavoid- 
ably turned its attention to the provision of services to women and 
children, of marginal employment and some intensive training of 
late adolescents, and — to its eventual grief — to community organiza- 
tion. This was to have consequences great or small throughout the 
society, but most fundamentally for Negro Americans. 

14 The Professors and the Poor 


In retrospect, it is possible to vietv the War on Poverty as a device 
that enabled the federal government to launch a fairly mde range 
of programs designed primarily to aid Negro Americans ivithout hav- 
ing to specify their purpose. In some measure, this was understood to 
be the case at the dme. The theme of poverty ivas a unifying one, a 
cause that the most diverse persons could share. (Thus, the legisla- 
tion was sponsored in Congress by Senator McNamara of Michigan 
and Congressman Landrum of Georgia, men at opposite poles of the 
Democratic party with respect to domestic issues.) Yet, it would be a 
mistake to conclude that Negro matters were uppermost in the minds 
of administration strategists either before or immediately after the 
assassination. It was well enough understood that by any reasonable 
standard most Negroes probably lived in poverty; but they tvere 
nonetheless seen to be a minority of all those living in poverty, and 
much was made of this point. The emergence of Negro poverty as the 
poverty problem was yet to come: a development that accompanied, 
rather than preceded, tlte establishment of the poverty program. 

This is largely a matter of historical trends. To the extent the 
nation was concerned with “Negro” problems at all, these ^vere still 
conceived, at this time, as issues of civil rights in the South. The 
battalions that had marched with the Reverend Martin Luther King, 
Jr., may have been deprived, but they were not poor. Indeed, much 
of the impact of the civil rights demonstrations of the period surely 
arose from the contrast bettveen the obvious middle-class dress, man- 
ner, and decorum of the black protesters with the red-necked vulgar- 
ity of the police and white mobs that harassed them. The profoundly 
different realities of the Northern Negro slum were yet to force them- 
selves on the attention of the countty (or, for that matter, of the civil 
rights leaders) and hence were not especially part of the political 
context in tvhich the poverty program was assembled. 

Yet, there was also an intellectual difficulty involved. The per- 
sons who conceived the poverty program and the somewhat different 
group that went on to administer it knew very little about the sub- 
ject of urban Negro poverty — the issue that in one manifestation or 
another was soon to become our single most pressing domestic politi- 
cal issue. The reasons for this are varied. First, no Negro was in- 
volved in any significant way at any significant stage in planning the 

15 Damel P. Moynihan 

Economic Opportunity Act of 1964. This is not a pleasant subject to 
discuss, but it is a crucial one that demands more open acknowledg- 
ment. (Nor is it merely of historical interest. Vcxy mucli the same 
could be said of the report of The National Advisory Commission on 
Civil Disorders. The commission’s report, issued in the spring of 
1968, is almost exclusively the work of white social scientists, com- 
mentators, and Avriters.) 

Negroes generally, and a large number of individual Negroes, 
have been in the "neAvs” so much of late that it is possible for even 
the most perceptive persons to fail to see hoAv little a part Negroes 
play in the academic and governing institutions of the nation (or 
business, or labor, etc.) and Avhat little influence they Avould seem to 
have. In part, this is a matter of things tliat are yet to happen. Yet 
tliere are puzzling aspects as Avell. It is possible to argue, for example, 
that a Negro intellectual/academic tradition that Avas in full force a 
generation ago has somehoAv faltered in our time, Avith important 
consequences. Some men continue to do good Avork. Kenneth B. 
Clark continues his unique and indispensable role. But, by and 
large, the issues of Negro poA'erty in the present time have been 
defined and analyzed by Avhite social scientists, and the subsequent 
programs have been administered by Avhite political executives. 
Thus, the idea of community action in the context of opportunity 
tlicoiq' Avas conceived by Avhite social scientists, launched by Avhite 
foundation executives and political activists, brought to Washington 
by the same, developed in the (Avhite) President's Committee on 
Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime, sold to Avhite economists in 
the Executive Office Building, and drafted into legislation by the 
Avhite White House task force on poA'erty. It Avould be not inaccurate 
to state that the only Negro significantly involved in the establish- 
ment of the poverty program Avas Congressman Adam Clayton 
PoAvell, Chainnan of the House Committee on Education and Labor, 
AA’hich had jurisdiction OA-er tlie bill. And at best he — and his col- 
leagues — had only the vaguest notion as to Avhat community action 
or many of the other measures in the legislation Avere about. It does 
not folloAv that the presence of influential Negroes at any stage in 
this process AA’ouId IiaA'e brought to bear any greater insights into the 
issues that Avere to be encountered, but it might certainly have sers'ed 
to suggest that the enterprise Avas not going to be an espedally 
simple one. 

In the actual conduct of the poverty program, these factors be- 
came, if anything, more relevant. Had the program retained a large 

16 The Professors and the Poor 

component of direct job creation for adult men, it ■would quite 
probably have acquired a more or less conservative cast, run by 
administrators seeking to ensure Congress and the taxpayers tliat an 
honest day's ■work ivas being had for a modest, even meager, day’s 
pay. The net social results might have been considerable, but almost 
certainly — given the absence of any general economic crisis — the 
administrative effort ■\vould have been to keep doivn the noise level. 
But there 'was no adult-employment program. Further, the not incon- 
siderable youth-employment program, the Neighborhood Youth 
Corps, tvas from the outset administered by the Labor Department. 
This left OEO primarily responsible for, and interested in, the 
community-action programs of Title II (apart, that is, from the Job 
Corps in -ivliich Shriver had a special interest throughout) . Com- 
munity action tvas by definition a program that sought to bring 
about individual change through social change — or, rather, by defini- 
tion of the tvhite, middle-class intellectuals ■who conceived the pro- 
gram and the white middle-class activists who seized hold of it in the 
early days of OEO and launched it in tire black ghettos of the na- 
tion. In this volume, S. M. Miller comments on the considerable 
discretion -svelfare bureaucracies exercise in the dispensing of funds 
and the management of their programs generally. This fact has per- 
haps never been so dramatically in evidence as in the community- 
action officials of the poverty program — a ivelfare bureaucrac)', ho'^v- 
ever much they might loathe the designation! — ^who sought to bring 
political activism and, in effect, discontent to the poor of the land, 
including, most visibly, the black poor of the decayed central cities of 
the North and West. It was OEO’s tragedy that this effort had no 
more begun when violence broke out in those very places. From 
having been the passive victim of oppression or the righteous and 
dignified exemplar of a great and honorable tradition of peaceful 
protest, the Negro assumed tlie role of aggressor: violent, intimidat- 
ing, tlu-eatening. Some of the public — or at least the Congress and, 
painful to state, the White House — associated the change tvith the 
poverty progi'am, ^vhich began its community-action ^vork at just 
about the time the communities involved became violent. Useless to 
argue that correlation does not establish causality: Things had gone 
■wrong and blame was placed ivith those tvlrose task — and promise — it 
had been to put them right. Almost within months of its founding, 
the poverty program ivas in trouble with the White House and the 
Congress, and within three years of the beginning of operations, it 
was severely restricted in its mission and methods, especially those 

17 Daniel P. Moynihan 

involving community action, by a punitive legislature and an acqui- 
escent administration. 

Had the poverty program ended there, so might the matter of its 
intellectual origins and difficulties. But it did not. To the contrary, 
for all the restrictions and abuse it sustained in the first session of the 
goth Congress, the essential fact is that it was continued — and on a 
basis that would suggest it will now become a more or less permanent 
program of tlie federal government (although not necessarily a per- 
manent agency) . This being so, what federal administrators — and all 
those involved — think to be true about matters of poverty, race, and 
social change assumes an immediate programmatic importance and 
does so in a political atmosphere that declares that these are the most 
pressing domestic issues of the time. 


The misfortunes of the poverty program are perhaps best visualized 
in terms of a downward spiral: a shaky start, followed by political 
trouble, leading to underfunding, followed by still more difficulties 
in performance, etc. The underfunding, however, was at least as 
much associated with the war in Vietnam as with any political diffi- 
culties the War on Poverty might have caused. But if this would, in 
one sense, seem a purely random influence, there is another in which 
the Vietnam nightmare was closely connected. Both were efforts 
largely conceived by and put into effect by the liberal thinkers and 
political executives of the Kennedy era. Both attracted fierce resist- 
ance as well as strong partisans, and both came in a way to haunt 
their creators. With respect to both matters, the nation tended to 
polarize into two groups: one demanding de-escalation and with- 
drawal, the other insisting on a total national effort for "victory.” 
Typically, those calling for ever-greater efforts in Vietnam were most 
inclined to de-escalate the War on Poverty, and vice versa. (In the 
spring of 1968, before, in effect, resigning his office after finding the 
conflicting pressures unmanageable. President Johnson apparently 
joined the former group, calling for "austerity" at home. On the day 
of Martin Luther King’s funeral, across-the-board poverty-program 
budget cuts were announced for northeastern cities.) Typically, the 
questions were seen as interrelated, in the sense that resources in 
money, men, executive energy, and something some call "moral” 
leadership were limited, and choices had to be made as to which 

18 The Professors and the Poor 

effort would receive priority, to the exclusion if necessary (some 
arguing this was absolutely the case) of the other. No small matters 
these. As the controversies mounted and passions engaged, it became 
probable that the disequilibrium brought on by the apparent failure 
of these two great undertakings was shaking the nation in most fun- 
damental ways. A time of the breaking of parties was at hand, of the 
rise and fall of dynasties, of profound reorientations. 

All but unnoticed in tlie crash and cries and dust of battle was 
the curious role of contemporary social science in the initiation of 
these events that seemed to be ending so badly. The politicians were 
blaming one another, and the professors seemed content that they 
should do so. It was an arrangement ostensibly agreeable to all, yet 
not satisfactory. The role of the intellectual, especially as embodied 
in the academic intellectual, has changed very considerably in Amer- 
ican life, and in a very short time. As recently as i960, Loren Baritz, 
in his study The Sewants of Power, noted: "Intellectuals in the 
United States have long bemoaned the assumed fact that they are 
unloved and unappreciated by their society.” He went on to assert 
that while the impulse of resistance to society, to “swim against the 
current,” was a common enough intellectual characteristic, there 
were nonetheless others who — mirabile dictu ! — accepted “the main 
contours of American society.” He described tliis group as “The Serv- 
ants of Power," ^ meaning, for tlie most part, large private enter- 
prises. That situation ivas to change dramatically (rather, -would be 
seen to have changed, the process having been undenvay for some 
time) . Within months of the appearance of Baritz’s book, intellec- 
tuals were not only to serve power at the very center of the American 
national government but also to wield it. Ideas arising out of re- 
search and analysis came to have an immediately and deeply conse- 
quential impact on events. Thus, the concept of limited -js^arfare and 
graduated response to Communist expansion abroad; thus, also, the 
“discovery” of the persistence of poverty at home and the concepts for 
eliminating it through a grand strateg)\ Both conceptions led to 
"war,” followed, as stated, by a fairly rapid onset of disillusion and 
disavowal. But this disavowal was typically directed either toward 
the objectives of the effort or the individuals in charge of it. In 
neither case has there been either considerable examination of the 
conceptions on which the undertaking -was based (or by ■?vhiclr it -was 
justified) or any inquiry into the degree to -which the “intellectual" 
assumptions of the effort were internally consistent, adequately 
understood, and systematically put to practice, much less the degree 

19 Daniel P. Moynihan 

to which they can be considered to have been valid at the time of 
their adoption and subsequently to have stood the test of events. It 
would be wrong to overestimate the influence of sheer intellection in 
either of these areas: The War on Poverty arose as much as anything 
from the socialist tradition of men like Michael Harrington and the 
political processes of the Democratic party; the war in Vietnam arose 
primarily from the demands of the Cold War on an essentially impe- 
rial power such as the United States has become. But the intellectual 
contribution was present in both and, on its own terms, demands 

To do just this with respect to the intellectual assumptions on 
which the War on Poverty was based is the purpose of this volume. 
This was only in part the objective of the group that first met in the 
spring of 1966 as the Seminar on Race and Poverty of the American 
Academy of Arts and Sciences. Since a fair number of those present 
had themselves participated in the conception and early implementa- 
tion of the poverty program — others being even then actively associ- 
ated with it — there was more than a little predisposition to get on 
with the ever-pressing task of program formulation. Nothing so sim- 
plistic as a presumed dichotomy between “more studies” and “ac- 
tion” was involved, rather an unspoken presumption that the intel- 
lectual bases of "action” were well enough understood and agreed on 
in their essentials and that, accordingly, program matters, especially 
the politics of achieving program support, would be of greater inter- 
est and, what is more, would impose the greater intellectual de- 
mands. The members of the seminar were more or less deliberately 
chosen for their activist concerns or their specifically activist roles, as 
in the case of Joseph Kershaw and Robert A. Levine, who served, 
successively, as Associate Director for Research of OEO itself. It was 
thus a matter of very considerable interest and some unsettlement for 
the seminar to realize, after a preliminary tour d’horizon, that many 
persons who had been speaking the same language had nonetheless 
very different meanings in mind. There was no common understand- 
ing as to the nature of poverty or the process of deliberate social 
change. Quite divergent views existed, and according as one or an- 
other view was adopted, it seemed evident that not less divergent 
policy and program implications would follow. Thus, at about the 
time the poverty program was running into serious doubts and dis- 
agreements in Washington, and in the nation generally, a corre- 
sponding set of uncertainties and ambiguities arose in a gathering 
not inappropriately sponsored by "The Academy.” Nor did these 

20 The Professors and the Poor 

difiBcuIties dissolve with further scrutiny. To the contrar)', the longer 
the dialogue persisted, the more different positions came to be ex- 
plicit, emphatic, and manifestly at odds, one tvith tlie other. 'Where- 
upon, the clear task of the seminar came to be tliat of explicating 
these differences and tracing the consequences that one, as against 
another, tvould have for public policy. 


It is perhaps tvell to state here that the widespread assertion of the 
"failure” of the poverty program at the present moment (just four 
years from the time it tvas presented to the Congress) could prove 
nothing more than a passing mood and one, moreover, that pro- 
foundly underestimates the nature and permanency of the commit- 
ment made by the Economic Opportunity Act. Gertrude Himmelfarb 
has pointed out that the Reform Act of 1867, while “perhaps the 
decisive event ... in modem English history,” was nonetheless a 
measure tliat few intended and fewer still comprehended.^ Far from 
being, as G, M. Trevelyan would have it, an “orderly and gradual” 
accommodation to “social facts," the event was rather a jumble of 
responses to events of the moment that nonetheless ended with a 
commitment that was in its natiure near to absolute. Professor Him- 
melfarb writes: 

It was this act that transformed England into a democracy and made 
democracy not only a respectable form of government . . . but also, in the 
opinion of most men, the only natural and proper form of government. 
. . . To be sure, the Act of 1867 had to be supplemented by others before 
universal suffrage was attained. But once this first step was made, no one 
seriously doubted that the others would follow. 

Is it not likely that something not dissimilar by way of a commit- 
ment was made with the launching of the War on Poverty? Indeed, 
the parallels with the great Victorian suffrage measure are striking, 
most especially in the degree to which neither was the result of any 
great popular agitation on behalf of the measures that were eventu- 
ally adopted. The nearest thing to popular pressure that preceded 
the poverty program was the March on Washington for Jobs and 
Freedom staged by Negro leaders in the late summer of 1963, but this 
W'as generally viewed as a demand for civil rights measures, and to 
the degree it was concerned ivith problems of poverty, the demand 

21 Daniel P. Moynihan 

(in wholly unspecified terms) was for a job-creation program, which 
the poverty legislation did not include. 

The Economic Opportunity Act, at least in its specifics, was very 
much a manifestation of the “professionalization of reform” that was 
proceeding apace at this time, having resulted from the convergence 
of such forces as Keynesian economics. Democratic politics, a certain 
thaw in the Cold War, the civil rights revolution, and the emergence 
of social science as an influence in government.® Just prior to the 
assassination of President Kennedy, Nathan Glazer described the 

Without benefit of anything like the Beveridge report to spark and focus 
public discussion and concern, the United States is passing through a stage 
of enormous expansion in the size and scope of what we may loosely call 
the social services — the public programs designed to help people adapt to 
an increasingly complex and unmanageable society. While Congress has 
been painfully and hesitantly trying to deal with two great measures — tax 
reform and a civil rights bill — and its deliberations on both have been 
closely covered by the mass media, it has also been working with much less 
publicity on a number of bills which will contribute at least as much to 
changing the shape of American society.’ 

These of course were precisely the bills incorporated in, and ex- 
panded by, the poverty program. Their origins lay to a considerable 
degree in presumed knowledge as to the nature of social processes 
and social change. Only just now does there begin what might be 
seen as the systematic reassessment of that presumed knowledge. 

Apart from the fundamental question. Why does poverty bother 
us? — a question so basic as to remain unasked — the conceptual issues 
on which an anti-poverty program must be based come to this: In 
which way are the poor different from others; how did they come to 
be that way; what measures could be expected to bring them into a 
sufficient measure of conformity with the modes of the larger society 
that they are no longer seen as poor and different, and no longer 
regard themselves as such? (Whether they would wish this to be 
done, or whether the larger society would, is another question, the 
answer to which will arise more from value judgments than from 
anything to be described as the analysis of social processes.) 

Although, as remarked earlier, a fair measure of the poverty 
program emerged out of concern for certain types of deviant behavior 
and, further, although the concept of “cultural deprivation” had 
won many adherents by this time, it is nonetheless the case that at 
the outset of the poverty program there was little emphasis on such 

22 The Professors and the Poor 

matters. The poor were presumed to be no more than tliat; poor. 
Little heed was given the possibility tliat being poor might eventu- 
ally lead to structural changes in personality and behat'ior, much as 
the state of being hungry can lead to a condition of malnutrition 
that is not to be resolved merely by the resumption of an ample diet. 
But the question tvas there nonetheless, and two factors pushed it 
to the fore. First was the unavoidable association of the issue of 
poverty with that of race and, to a lesser degree, ethnicity. Negroes 
(and Puerto Ricans, and Mexican-Americans, and Indians) were 
poor in ways other groups were not, and fetv could avoid the percep- 
tion that such persons were viewed as different and treated differ- 
ently. Second was the startling onset of black violence in tlie urban 
slums of the North and West. That this was “different” behavior 
none could doubt and fesv could explain. A paradox of sorts arose: 
Any number of persons grew more confident in, even more insistent 
on, the viability of particular strategies for relieving poverty, even as 
they grew more uneasy with familiar formulations of its etiology. 

At the same time, it became clear that at what might be termed 
a desaiptive level, observers of poverty had reached impressively 
convergent conclusions. 

The existing literature reveals a considerable consensus as to the 
characteristics of "lotver-class” persons who are more or less destitute 
throughout their life cycle, in contrast, that is, to “graduate-student 
poverty" or the poverty of persons who are disabled, or old, or other- 
wise living in situations quite different from those to which they were 
born or in which tliey spent significant parts of their lives. Peter 
Rossi and Zahava D. Blum, in Chapter 2 in this volume, summarize 
qualities of the group Lloyd Warner first described as “lotver- 
lowers” to designate their place in the stratification system: 

1. Labor-Force Participation, Long periods of unemployment 
and/or intermittent employment. Public assistance is frequently a 
major source of income for extended periods. 

2. Occupational Participation. When employed, persons hold 
jobs at the lowest levels of skills, for example, domestic service, un- 
skilled labor, menial sendee jobs, and farm labor. 

3. Family and Interpersonal Relations. High rates of marital 
instability (desertion, divorce, separation) , high incidence of house- 
holds headed by females, high rates of illegitimacy; unstable and 

23 Daniel P. Moynihan 

superficial interpersonal relationships characterized by considerable 
suspicion of persons outside the immediate household. 

4. Community Characteristics. Residential areas with very 
poorly developed voluntary associations and low levels of participa- 
tion in such local voluntary associations as exist. 

5. Relationship to Larger Society. Little interest in, or knowl- 
edge of, the larger society and its events; some degree of alienation 
from the larger society. 

6. Value Orientations. A sense of helplessness and low sense of 
personal efficacy; dogmatism and authoritarianism in political ideol- 
ogy; fundamentalist religious views, with some strong inclinations 
toward beliefs in magical practices. Low "need achievement" and low 
levels of aspirations for the self. 

Although several other characteristics could be added to this 
inventory, a review of the literature indicates that these are not only 
the ones about which there is most agreement but also those which 
tend to be stressed as critical. 

But again: How has this come to be, and what might change it? 
While to be sure there exists a spectrum of opinion on the matter, it 
would be quite mistaken to imagine there to be chaos. To the con- 
trary, on closer examination, opinions can be seen to cluster around 
two general positions — distinct, but not entirely incompatible. Lee 
Rainwater alludes to the famous exchange between Fitzgerald and 
Hemingway as to the peculiar ways of the rich and suggests that the 
question about the poor is whether they really are different or simply 
have less money. On the one hand, scholars such as Walter Miller 
and Oscar Lewis argue that there is in truth a distinctive "culture of 
poverty” or subculture of the poor that is not only sustained by 
external circumstances — poverty — but also by internal systems of 
values and preferences and interim personal relationships that have a 
validity and life of their own and that are capable of persisting well 
after the external circumstances have been modified or changed alto- 
gether. It is to be noted that both Miller and Lewis are anthropolo- 
gists trained to perceive differences in cultures and respectful — even 
defensive — of those differences. Herbert Cans makes a point of this. 
“The behavioral conception of culture,” he argues, “can be traced 
back to anthropological traditions and to the latent political agendas 

24 The Professors end the Poor 

of anthropological researdters.” respect to the poor, as 
reminded us a quarter centur)' ago, this can be a risky business. Froa*i 
fifth-century Atlrens on, a literar}- tradition has stressed not only tl'.c 
validity of poverty (preferably rustic) but indeed the superior \alid- 
ity. Such fandes just possibly lend a slightly astringent air to the 
arguments of those who insist that the characteristics of tire poor are 
situational rather than cultural. . . Poverty,” VTites Otis Dudlcr 
Duncan, "is not a trait but a condition.” Such essentially is the riw 
of Harold IVatts and Gerald Rosenthal, botli of rvhom, it may be 
noted, are economists and hence professionally more or less required 
to note that the state of being poor is everyndiere defined as not 
having enough money. (And, of course, sociologists such as Hylan 
Lewis and Herbert Cans fervently agree.) 

The difficulty widr each of these general positions, as Herbert 
Cans argues, and as their proponents would concede, is that they 
require a too homogeneous view' of the poverty population. People 
are too obviously variegated: one from another, one group from an- 
other, one region from another. (Indeed, the demonstrations by 
Thernstrom and Duncan of the high rates of turnover in the poverty 
population would seem to raise considerable difficulties for all points 
of view.) No one conception is likely to fit all circumstances. More- 
over, to Rossi and Blum — as w'ell as to Rainwater, Gans, and Hylan 
Lewis — to cliange the condition of poverty w'ould lead more or less 
directly to behavior change. The former states, "If there is a culture 
of poverty or a subculture of the poor, then it is a condition which 
arises out of the exigencies of being relatively w'ithout resources and 
of being negatively evaluated by the larger society." Rainwater, 
while tending to accept tlie Parsonian and Mertonian position that 
there exists a common value system for Americans, such that a dis- 
tinctive culture of poverty could not be said to exist, nonetheless 
argues that however mucli values may be shared, "conforming to 
norms requires certain kinds of social logistic support.” He insists 
that those svho are knotvn to be poor and seen to be different in the 
United States have simply not received that support. Rainsratcr 
scould tlius argue that each successive generation can re-create the 
patterns of the preceding one, without there being any specifically 
iniergenerational uansfer in the process. This, he holds, is especially 
so in the experience of the Negro American: 

The sodal ontogeny of c.idi generation recapitulates the soda! phylogeny 
of Negroes in the New World because the basic socio-economic position of 

25 Daniel P. Moynihan 

the group has not changed in a direction favorable to successful achieve- 
ment in terms of conventional norms. 

A historian, Stephan Thernstrom, points out that the ?i.5o a 
day wages of the nineteenth century did not lead to the formation of 
a permanent class of the industrial poor; to the contrary, it 
sustained a high order of upward social mobility from the very lowest 
classes. To be sure, he argues, times have now changed and so have 
expectations. Then, as now, the poor got children; in those times, 
however, they were an economic asset, while today they are anything 
but. Moreover, before the mass media, or the Kennedys, or whatever, 
it was understood that some things took time. 

While many of these families had a total combined income which hovered 
around the minimum subsistence budgets carefully calculated by contempo- 
rary middle-class investigators, they still managed to save. Their conception 
of subsistence was far more Spartan — ^it was potatoesi And their subculture 
had given them a goal which was dear and within reach — a piece of prop- 
erty, a piece of respectability which made all those potatoes tolerable. 

Thernstrom nonetheless asserts that ‘‘those who are convinced that 
poverty in the U.S. is increasingly being meted out in life sentences 
have yet to do the homework to substantiate the claim.” Save only for 
the Negro, whose present, persisting position at the bottom of the 
social order simply cannot be explained except by the not less per- 
sistent fact of racial prejudice. Marc Fried, in a study of migration of 
different ethnic groups in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, 
concludes that the Negro experience is not notably different from 
that of earlier, peasant groups, but also notes the less hopeful signs of 
this moment and the seeming ever-present American potential for 
ethnic hostility. In a tour de force of sociometrics, Otis Dudley Dun- 
can isolates and quantifies the impact of this phenomenon. This ‘‘cost 
of being a Negro,” he argues, is in no sense a matter of "cultural” 
inheritance, save it is an inheritance of black skin; it is this aspect of 
poverty that must be the first concern of the nation. The seminar did 
not disagree. An essential fact of American society, Duncan writes, is 
that there now exist “gross discrepancies in achievements and re- 
wards between the races” and that these simply do not disappear as 
"a benign fallout from conventional measures taken to enhance ‘op- 
portunity.’ ” S. M. Miller and Pamela Roby agree; they argue for 
casting the issues of poverty in terms of stratification in a status 
system rather than viewing it as a question of levels of income or 

26 The Professors and the Poor 

consumption. This, they argue, leads forthtdth to the issue of in- 
equality. %\Tiich "^Valter Miller tvould accept, w'hile den)-ing that the 
inequality is all that oppressive to persons consigned to the "lois-er*' 
strata by "upper” analysts. He is adamant on this point. For him the 
question, "In -vvhat way are the poor different from others?" ignores 
tlie logically prior question rvhich he feels must be: "Hotr is one to 
define the population seen as presenting a/tlie problem/problems?” 
It is his view that rvhat troubles “upper” analysts and citizens in 
general is not that this "lower” group lacks resources (especially in 
the case of urban “lotver” groups) but tliat it acts differently. For 
Miller, the term "poor” is a misleading code word for tliose differ- 
ences in behavior. V ; 

Indeed, it is no less an authority than Sharv who reminds us in 
Maxims for Revolutionists that doing good to others can be a risky 
business if the others in question do not happen to share the same 
tastes. 1-^3 

Three general points emerge from this range of analysis. The 
first and most important is that any moderately rigorous inquiry into 
these issues is sooner or later, and more often sooner, stalled by an 
absence of data against which to check hypodieses. Again, it is not a 
matter of knowing nothing. An important beginning literature has 
come into being — much, if not indeed most, of it the n'ork of persons 
represented in this volume and other members of the Academy semi- 
nar. But it is only tliat: a beginning. The essential fact is that our 
present concern for this cluster of social issues and the amount of 
resources being allocated to it are wholly disproportionate to our 
knowledge of the subject. Thus, a century after trade unions began 
to be organized and the appearance of industrial unemployment as a 
political and social issue, a half centurj' after the founding of the 
Monthly Labor Review, almost a quarter century from the enactment 
of the Employment Act of 1946 and tlie establishment of the 
Council of Economic Advisers, we are still almost entirely ignorant of 
the effects of unemployment on individual ivorkers. A decent begin- 
ning was made on such studies during the 1930s, but the matter was 
dropped and has not been heard of since.® Similarly, while continued 
references are made in this volume to tlie issue of income and the 

possibility of a "resources" strategy’ in the War on Poverty, there is 
hardly tivo bits ivorth of reliable information as to how changes in 
income change indmdual styles of life. / ^ ^ / 

While this first general point will clearly be seen as fundamen- 
tal, it will hardly be taken as something especially novel. The ab- 

27 Daniel P . M o v x i h a n 

scncc or insufficiency of reliable data is the common condition of 
social science at this time, and if academics do not overly insist on tlie 
fact, neither do they overmuch conceal it. By contrast, a second gen- 
eral point emerges that is not always evident in earlier discussions 
and even less frequently commented on. This might be described as 
the impact of social class on the analysis of social class. Just as poverty 
and race are anything but randomly distributed risks in the popula- 
tion, neitlier is concern about them nor tlie professional ability and/ 
or proclivity to analyze them. So far as the social sciences are con- 
cerned, it can be laid down that literar)' productivity on the subject 
of poverty will exist in inverse ratio to the incidence of poverty in the 
"group” to which the social scientist happens to “belong.” David 
Riesman is surely correct in his view of tlie United States as a 

society only partially centralized and still radically di\-ided along ethnic, 
religious, racial and class lines — but a society nevertheless with an increas- 
ingly widespread national upper-middle-class style spread by college educa- 
tion, the mass media, and occupational, sodal and geographic mobility. 

This condition is, if anything, exaggerated within the intellectual- 
academic community, where an upper-middle-class style — the Acad- 
emy seminar met amidst the Edwardian splendor of Brandegee 
House and did not fail to have claret and candlelight at dinner — is 
aggressively maintained, but tvhere memories of a not always distant 
past of privation and rejection are very real indeed. Unavoidably, 
this affects attitudes and perceptions. 

The essential fact is that one source of tire continuing radical 
division between ethnic, religious, racial, and class lines of which 
Riesman speaks is tliat there have in fact been markedly differential 
rates of “success” among these groups. Moreover, contrary to what 
might be generally believed, there would appear to be a high correla- 
tion between success in the traditional commerdal pursuits of the 
land and in the now not less characterisu'c intellectual/academic 
pursuits. There is no concealing failure in American society: At best, 
it can be translated into weakness and deployed in the manner of the 
rveak — a female art, and typically a woman’s lot, as in the confronta- 
tion of black welfare mothers and white welfare officials. Oddly, how- 
ever, there is not a little concealment of success. Norman Podhoretz, 
rather to his disadvantage, has explained this for us: Success is to 
contemporary American society what sex svas to the Victorian svorld 
— “the dirty little secret.” Perhaps always has been. Did not William 

2S The Professors and Uic Poor 

James as far back as 1906 declare that "worship of the bitch-goddess 
success" was "our national disease"? Certainly it makes some per- 
sons uneasy, and not a little efTori is made to cover it up; intuitively, 
perhaps, on the part of Jews; by habit and tradition on the part of 
New England Brahmins; as a deliberate tactic in a certain type of 
politician, especially southern ones whose constituencies arc so 
largely coinjn i.scd of "failures.” In the ease of "The Heathen Chinee” 
and their Japanese coiisins, it is not clear whether it is the cunning of 
Ah Sin that is involved or merely a matter of caution, but the ex- 
traordinary success of these two groups is .still a matter of quite 
limited knowledge outside a few places such as Hawaii. And if there 
is a general uneasiness about success, tin’s is nowhere to be encoun- 
tered in a more painful manifestation than in the literature of pov- 
erty, for it is the persisting ".social fact” of this literature that it not 
only involves a discussion by individuals who arc successful about 
individuals who are not, but akso representatives of unusually suc- 
cessful groups dissecting unusually unsuccessful ones. In this respect, 
this volume is no exception. Of the fourteen authors represented, for 
example, just half come from Jewish backgrounds, five have white 
Protestant antecedents, two Catholic. This is in no way proportional 
to the size of die respective groups and, until recently, rather the in- 
verse of the incidence of in ban poverty among them. (It would ap- 
pear that Protestant-Catholic dilTcrcntinls have about washed out 
now, save when to be Catholic means also to be Mcxican-Amcrican, 

But, on the other hand, it docs quite accurately reflect the gen- 
eral distribution of "success" in Amcric:i, certainly in the social sci- 
ences. To state that half the significant social sdence of the present 
age is the w'ork of scholars with Jewish backgrounds is probably to 
underestimate; to suggest that as much as 15 per cent is the product 
of scholars -with Catholic backgrounds is to be more generous than 
the spirit of ccumenicism requires. But note those not present: the 
Puerto Rican, the Mexican-American, the Indian-Amcrican, and, 
most especially, the Negro. Although Hylan Lewis played an active 
and important role in the seminar, the press of other commitments 
prevented his preparing a paper. Hence, tliis volume partakes of the 
characteristic of so many others of the present time: a discussion by 
rvhites of problems most conspicuously experienced by blacks. An 
inescapable fact about the current billowing literature on poverty 
and race relations in the United States is that wliile more and more it 
centers on the conditions of black persons in a white society, less and 

29 Daniel P. Moynihan 

less is it actually the work of Negro scholars. This must be repeated: 
less. It was not always thus. A generation ago, anyone seeking to 
learn more of this subject would of necessity and choice have turned 
to the work of black authors: Frazier, Johnson, Drake, Cayton, Davis, 
and others almost as distinguished. But somehow that tradition, 
nobly begun even earlier by such as W. E. B. DuBois, declined. 
Myrdal’s great work may have constituted a kind of overkill, at least 
for research by Negroes. In the mid-1950s American foundations 
seemingly lost interest in the subject, and white work in race rela- 
tions also stopped.® 

When interest resumed, it may be that whites took over the 
subject, newly en vogue, much as they took over the federal-style 
houses in Georgetown and on Capitol Hill. But for whatever reason, 
Negro social scientists are few and far between today; those held in 
the greatest respect — men such as Kenneth Clark, Hylan Lewis, John 
Hope Franklin, Daniel C. Thompson, Charles J. Willie, St. Clair 
Drake — are so overextended and in demand — those conferences and 
those community action programsl — as to produce less than would 
otherwise be the case. 

It is, of course, quite an unresolved question as to whether ra- 
cial, religious, class experiences, or whatever are necessarily better 
interpreted by persons who “belong” to the group in question. It was 
judged of Myrdal, for example, that one of his primary qualifications 
for the task he undertook in the 1930s was that he was a non- 
American from a nation with no colonial experience. In other words, 
that he had the least personal experience with the phenomena he 
undertook to analyze. On the other hand, a plain question of “data” 
is involved. Having lived as a Puerto Rican immigrant, for example, 
or an Apache, or a poor white from “a cabin in the cotton” surely 
gives access to knowledge as to what that condition actually involves 
that few outsiders can command. Not just knowledge, but also an 
intensity of interest and alertness to nuance that “outsiders” rarely 
possess. It would surely seem to be the case in social science, as it is in 
literature, that “insiders” write the most, if not the best, about their 
own group. The most that can be said at the moment is that what 
social science very much needs is a considerable widening of its eth- 
nic, social, religious, and regional base. (Note for example that of the 
fourteen authors of this volume only two have southern backgrounds.) 
When social scientists observing a given milieu find that their judg- 
ments as to its qualities and characteristics are similar to, or con- 
vergent with, the judgments of other social scientists actually drawn 

30 The Professors and the Poor 

from the milieu in question, we tvill be entitled to a greater order of 
confidence in the respective results. 

Yet the problem of ethnically "representative” analysts is not 
merely one of the validity of interpretations. It is also one of accept- 
ability. In a certain sense, twentieth-century social science has inher- 
ited the ambiguities and embarassments of nineteenth-century char- 
ity: its practitioners want to help and, in considerable measure, are 
able to do so, but they are at the same time resu-ained by a knowl- 
edge of the great differences along "ethnic, religious, racial, and class 
lines” that typically separate them from the objects of their concern 
and are plagued by doubts as to the validity of any prescriptions they 
might offer across those chasms. In its most bathetic manifestation, 
this concern takes the form of asking, “What right have I to impose 
my (corrupt, etc.) bourgeois values on these (uncorrupted, etc.) 
struggling folk whose values are not mine?" But tire problem is 
present even for the most disciplined of men. What it comes to is that 
in a society still much given to assessing the comparative moral worth 
of different individuals and different modes of behavior, not at all 
averse by rapid calculation to adduce from the behavior of individ- 
uals the diaracteristics of the group to which die individuals "be- 
long,” and in tvhich characteristic lower-class behavior is associated 
with quite negative moral valuations by middle-class groups, to be 
overexplicit about the origins and nature of that behavior is to risk 
seeming not merely to describe but to indict the lower-class group in 
question. The charge will almost automatically be raised diat such 
analysis, howsoever Avell intentioned or accurate, by establishing the 
existence of behavior that can be "misinterpreted” by enemies of the 
group in question and used against it, more or less automatically will 
be so used, in consequence of which it must be judged that the social 
scientist has given "ammunition” to those enemies. If the typical 
social scientist open to this charge were a genuinely "objective” and 
"neutral” obseiwer, such charges might be a matter of litde conse- 
quence, but rarely is this the case. To the contrary, such analysts are 
normally much caught up with the desire to "help” diose they ana- 
lyze: How bitter then to be accused of having done harm. Even ;rhen 
such alarums concerning ever-watchful "enemies” occur largely at the 
level of fantasy, the attack on the social scientist is not less real nor 
less unsettling. The question of guilt and culpability perv'ades this 
atmosphere, to the point indeed where professional training prob- 
ably had best begin taking it into account, much as psychoanalysts 
are trained to anticipate and to manage hostility. 

31 Daniel P. Moynihan 

It would be quite mistaken to suppose that such assaults are to 
be associated only with black militants hurling the charge of "rac- 
ism” at anguished white liberals. Anything but. Not infrequently, 
quite the most virulent objections will come from the very “elite” 
circles whence they originate. Thus at one point, for example, it fell 
to the present author to report on the work of the poverty seminar to 
the 1482nd Stated Meeting of the American Academy. The report, 
which followed rather much the outline of this present chapter, was 
necessarily limited and imperfect, and nothing if not tentative. It was 
generally well enough received: Academicians are accustomed to 
hearing colleagues report that closer scrutiny of a particular subject 
has disclosed large areas of uncertainty, indicating the need for fur- 
ther research. Yet, one member present for the occasion, an astron- 
omer, was roused to a state of considerable distress, the main ele- 
ments of which were recorded in a three-page letter, of which the first 
paragraph might usefully be quoted. 

I am writing to express my dismay and concern over the report you de- 
livered to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences last Wednesday. I 
did enjoy the first twenty minutes of your talk, because I assumed I was 
listening to a put-on. The preposterous list of criteria for poverty, the 
clumsy jargon, the pathetic attempts at polysyllabic humor, and the inven- 
tion of comic figures like “Miller” and “Rainwater” to act as spokesmen 
for hallucinatory points of view — all these seemed to be a somewhat over- 
done prelude to what I assumed would be a serious discussion of the prob- 
lem of poverty in the United States. I still find it hard to believe that a 
talk that laid so much stress on the views of a man who thinks that poverty 
is a figment of the white liberal imagination and on interpretations of the 
Negro ethos by a white Mississippian was entirely lacking in humorous 

One cannot avoid the sheer fury of these remarks — fury that some- 
how the good name of the poor had been sullied — and the willing 
descent to a level of ad hominem disparagement of intellectual anal- 
ysis that is at very least unusual. (Alas, poor Rainwater. An adult life 
devoted to social research and liberal politics seemingly cannot erase 
the stigma of birthl) Yet, it would be a fair impression that such 
reactions are not unrepresentative and that they have affected analy- 
ses of race and poverty in the United States. 

The most conspicuous effect has been a near-obsessive concern to 
locate the “blame” for poverty, especially Negro poverty, on forces 
and institutions outside the community concerned. At different times, 
different factors have been in fashion— capitalism, racism, the 

32 The Professors and the Poor 

military-industrial complex, etc. — but tlie tendency persists. Walter 
Miller (an exhilarating but rarely comic figure!) will go so far as to 
argue that indeed a genuine, true-belicver cult has arisen in this area 
a belief based on the proposition that the poor are in poverty because 
they are deprived of opportunity by the power structure. ". . . Sim- 
ple, direct, unambiguous," he writes, "a classic theory of conspira- 
torial exclusionism.” A certain measure of this attitude was implicit 
in the original poverty program of the federal government, and it 
came even more in evidence as "white radicals" (as tliey came to be 
perceived in the upper reaches of the Executive Office Building) 
gained positions of influence within OEO. Quite apart from the 
question of whether this position in any tvay corresponds to reality, 
this curious mind set encourages a number of singularly unhelpful 
tendencies of American liberalism. Foremost of these is the proclivity 
for seeing in the poor and dispossessed — hotvsoever weak and out- 
numbered they might be — an instrument for transforming the larger 
society, which at times tends to something very like indifference to 
tlte conditions of tltc poor as such. It has been remarked of the 
abolitionists, for example, that many seemed preoccupied with the 
souls of slaveholders but not at all interested, really, in the lives of 
the slaves. It was not just by cliancc that a large-scale program to 
provide employment for adult men — a traditional anti-poverty 
measure — tvas left out of the poverty program, udiilc tlic quite unpre- 
cedented community-action programs tvere left in and, indeed, came 
to be the center of the program. Afillcr contends that while the oppor- 
tunity theory' on which these programs were based is inadequate, if 
not outright nrong, its attraction lay in the imputation of guilt on 
the part of the larger society. (This certainly was the message that 
the public received from tlie report of tlic Commission on Civil Dis- 
orders, ^vhatever might have been the intent of the commissioners.) 
He states: 

Opportunity is not a structure that people are either inside or outside of. 
Americans may adiieve tvidely varying degrees of success or failure in a 
thousand different spheres and in a thousand different ways. Beaming to 
lower status people the message that one can attain "success goals" by 
breaching, demolishing, or otherwise forcing the "walls" that bar them from 
"opportunity” conveys a tragically oversimplified and misleading impression 
of the conditions and circumstances of success, in addition to fostering an 
imagery with potentially destructive consequences. 

But right or wong— men such as Thernstrom tvould argue tliat 
this view is quite mistaken — ^it is certainly the case that the apparent 

33 Daniel P . M o y n i h a n 

function of many of iliese programs as they actually came into being 
was to raise the level of perceived and validated discontent among 
poor persons svith the social system about them, witliout actually- 
improving the conditions of life of the poor in anything like a com- 
parable degree. Can it be that this process has not somehow contrib- 
uted to and validated the onset of urban violenee? 

But from the point of viesv of social science, quite tlie most per- 
nicious effect of tlie poverty ideology has been its tendency to dis- 
courage rigorous inquiry into the social process that keeps men in 
poverty or leads them out of it. To blame "the system," or whatever, 
is not an act of analysis; it is too often the very opposite. Nor is this 
latter-day obscurantism confined to the study of the poor, themselves. 
Tims, a flaw in the otherwise powerful and moving report of the 
National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders is that having de- 
clared, "White racism is essentially responsible for the explosive mix- 
ture which has been accumulating in our cities since the end of 
World \Var II,” it dropped that matter then and there. No effort 
whatever was made, or apparently even deemed necessary, to define 
"white racism,” to trace its etiology, to distinguish different forms 
and degrees of intensity, to measure its impact, to assess the counter- 
action it may produce in Negroes. None of this was done, nor was 
there any discussion even of the question of how such white racism 
might be diminished or eliminated altogether. The charges against 
tlie poor — rioting — had been dismissed. The guilty party — white 
society — had been identified. The matter need go no further. 

Five months after its report was published, the Commission re- 
leased a supplementary volume relating tlie findings of rcsearcli 
projects which it had financed, but which evidently were not avail- 
able at the time the basic document was svTitten. The most ambitious 
project was a sun-ey of public opinion in fifteen cities directed by- 
Angus Campbell and Howard Schuman of tlie Survey Research Cen- 
ter of the University of iMichigan.i® A work of unquestioned schol- 
arship, the survey utterly devastated the Commission’s finding con- 
cerning "white racism.” A bare 6 per cent of the white respondents 
reported attitudes that could properly be described as racist, and this 
was concentrated among persons over fifty years old. The ovenvhelm- 
ing body of white opinion revealed itself as uneasy, even arexious 
about Negroes, but eminently reasonable in response to perceived 
black demands. A clear majority, for example, indicated a willingness 
to see their own taxes increased lo per cent to provide better living 
for blacks. The man-in-the-street assessment of the situation as re- 

B 4 The Professors and the Poor 

vealed in the Commission-sponsored sun'ey comes tlirough as consid- 
erably more realistic tlian the somewhat perfervid self-certification of 
the Commission report itself, with its all-too-familiar pattern of the 
white upper-middle class confessing the sins of the tvhite lower- 
middle class. Just how much this pattern of caste disdain for the 
lower, but not suffering, orders contributed to the extraordinary 
political appeal of Presidential candidate George C. Wallace is a sub- 
ject political sociologists might well look into once poverty has been 
conquered. Nor is it likely that whites have been the only ones af- 

One commentator, appalled by the too-eager embrace of the 
“white racism” verdict — an acceptance not in the least associated 
with an apparent national impulse to do anything about the condi- 
tions described — concluded that “all that this exercise in blame- 
fixing offers (the Negro) is an official nudge toward paranoia.” The 
Commission findings, followed so shortly by the assassination of Rev- 
erend Martin Luther King, Jr., indeed gave way to a quite unprece- 
dented display of nationwide mourning and self-indictment. Yet, the 
impulse to change the conditions of the life of the poor somehow 
lagged behind, indeed seemed hardly associated with the willingness 
to accept guilt for the existence of those conditions. And almost 
nowhere was there in evidence any apparent interest in the develop- 
ment of more complex and usable analyses of those conditions, nor, 
yet, any seeming interest in the dangers that might reside in the 
impulse to accept blame. The psychoanalytic doctrine that guilt 
turns to rage was no more heeded than William Graliam Sumner’s 
perhaps not altogether discredited notion that folkways persist. 

American social science can do better, and so it ought. An hon- 
orable, and on balance honorably fulfilled, desire to be helpful has 
here and there succumbed to a fear of disappointing or to an alarm 
at contradicting. That is not the way science is done, nor in the end 
is it the way a republic can be governed. This volume is an effort to 
do what must be done; It would be presumptuous to call it a begin- 
ning effort, but not, I think, wrong to state that it appears at a time 
when the need for such a beginning is more widely appreciated. For 
there are promises to keep. In the dark hours of 1964 a bright and 
shining commitment was made. That commitment stands. Pacta sunt 

Chapter 2 

^ Class, Status, and Poverty 



The poor are different: On this, there is consensus. It is beyond this 
agreement on the obvious that the critical issues in both our under- 
standing and treatment of poverty arise: In what ways are the poor 
different? How do these differences arise, and how are they main- 

To provide answers, we will engage in both empirical and theo- 
retical exercises. On the empirical side, researches on social stratifica- 
tion published over the past two decades will be examined to glean 
fairly firm knowledge about the poor and their differences from other 
layers of our society. On the theoretical side, we will attempt to 
explain how these differences are generated and maintained. 

Whether the poor are different qualitatively from the rest of 
American society remains a moot question until we settle both the 
question of how poverty is to be defined and what is meant by a 
qualitative difference. For present purposes, it is sufficient to define 
the poor as those who are at the bottom of our American class system. 
The poor are those able-bodied adults and their dependent chil- 
dren whose lack of income and wealth places them at the bottom- 

The preparation of this chapter was supported in part by a grant from the 
Russel) Sage Foundation and by a Reflective Year Fellowship granted to the senior 
author by the Carnegie Corporation of New York. This support is hereby grate- 
fully acknowledged. This chapter is part of the program of research on Education 
and Social Change for Negro Americans at the Center for the Study of Social 
Organization of Schools, Johns Hopkins University. 

57 Peter H. Rossi and Zahava D. Blum 

most layer of the distributions and ivhose sources of income lie in 
either welfare payments or in unskilled and poorly paid occupations. 
These are the “problem” poor, those who “should be making it” in 
our society and who are either failing to do so or are the products of 
the failures of om- society.^ 

The main concerns of this chapter are not merely academic. 
■\Vhether one conceives of the poor as qualitatively different from the 
rest of society or mainly differing in degree from those above them 
affects social policy. A social policy based on a qualitative model of 
poverty tends to stress rehabilitation and retraining. A quantitative 
model, in contrast, underlies those polides that stress institutional 
changes in our society or that provide income maintenance. In the 
last section of this chapter, we attempt to draw out the policy impli- 
cations of our empirical findings and theoretical speculations. 

The main issues dealt ivith in this chapter have appeared in the 
literature on poverty in a variety of seemingly different forms. For 
example, there is the question of whether there exists a “culture of 
poverty.” Or there are discussions of the alternatives of a situational 
versus a subcultural vieiv of poverty, etc. It is important to bear in 
mind that these are all variants of the main issues of this chapter: 
How different are the poor and -why are they different? 


To answer this question, we examined the extensive, empirical sodal- 
sdence literature published since the end of World War II. The 
detailed results of our bibliographic survey are contained in the Ap- 
pendix of this volume to which the interested reader may turn for a 
discussion of methods and detailed findings.® For present purposes, 
we ■will provide mainly an overview. 

Our first disappointment in surveying the literature was to find 
that very few of the studies paid close attention to those on the very 
bottom of the stratification system. Systematic studies of the charac- 
teristics of the poor on an extensive basis are particularly lacking, the 
major exceptions being the Survey Research Center’s survey of in- 
come and labor-force participation based on a national sample, 
augmented by oversampling of low-income households (Morgan et 
al., 1962) .* The studies have tended mainly to make only a few 

• Citations in this chapter are to articles listed in the bibliography to the 
Appendix of this volume. 

}9 Peter H. Rossi and Zahava D. Blum 

5. Relationship to Larger Society. Little interest in, or knowl- 
edge of, the larger society and its events; some degree of alienation 
from the larger society. 

6. Value Orientations. A sense of helplessness and low sense of 
personal efficac)’; dogmatism and authoritarianism in political ideol- 
og)’; fundamentalist religious views, with some strong inclinations 
toward belief in magical practices. Low "need achievement” and low 
levels of aspirations for the self. 

Although several other characteristics could be added to this 
inventory, our informal content analysis of the literature indicates 
that these characteristics are those about which there is considerable 
consensus and that tend to be stressed as critical features of tlie 

Dissension among tmters exists around the question of whether 
tlie poor are "happy” or not. Some wTiters e.\tol the spontaneity of 
expression among tliis group; others ascribe die same phenomenon to 
lack of impulse control. Some see die poor as having a fine and warm 
sense of humor, but odiers regard their humor as bitter and sad. 
Some claim diat the poor are desperately tr)’ing to change dieir condi- 
tion, sinking into apathy when it becomes clear to them that die odds 
are gready against dieir being able to do so; others deny diat a strong 
desire for diange exists. 

A second point of disagreement arises over whether or not the 
"loiver-lowers” have developed a contra-culture — a rejection of the 
core values of American society — or whedier they are best character- 
ized by what Hyman Rodman calls "value stretcli,” a condidon in 
whicli the main values are accepted as valid by persons who, nonethe- 
less, e.\empt themselves from fulfilling die requirement of norms.® 

Our detailed findings from the survey of empirical studies are 
contained in the Appendix of diis volume. For present purposes, it 
is only necessan- to state that in almost evers- case it is clear that the 
alleged "special” cliaracteristics of the poor are ones that they share 
generally with the "working-class” or "blue-collar” component of die 
labor force. In other words, the poor are different, but the difference 
appears mainly to be a matter of degree rather than of kind. 

According to the literature revieived, the loiver the socio- 
economic level: 

40 Class, Status, and Poverty 

1. The higher the incidence of family disorganization: divorce, deser- 
tion, unhappiness in the marital relationship, illegitimacy, etc. 

2. The greater the sense of alienation from the larger society, the 
poorer the knowledge concerning matters of public interest, the less 
participation in voting, parapolitical organizations, and associa- 
tions in general. 

3. The higher the incidence of symptoms of mental disorder, the 
higher the degree of maladjustment as evidenced on personality 

4. The less competence with standard English, the more likely to 
score poorly on tests of verbal and scholastic ability, and the more 
likely to drop out of school before completion. 

5. The higher the rate of mortality and the incidence of physical dis- 
orders, although there is some evidence that such socio-economic 
differentials have been declining over time. 

6. The lower the "need for achievement” and the less likely individ- 
uals are to manifest what has been called the deferred gratifica- 
tion pattern.® 

7. The less likely are parents to socialize their children through the 
use of explanations for obedience to rules and the more likely to 
assert such rules without presenting rationales. 

8. The higher are crime and delinquency rates (when based on ar- 
rests and convictions) , although there is some evidence that law- 
enforcement agencies treat lower-class delinquents more harshly 
and that when adolescents are asked whether they have committed 
delinquent acts, the socio-economic differentials tend to decline. 

9. The more likely to be liberal on economic issues but somewhat 
less liberal regarding civil liberties or toward political deviants. 

In other areas of attitudes and behavior, the review of the litera- 
ture did not reveal reasonable degrees of consensus concerning what 
is related to socio-economic status. Sometimes, contradictory patterns 
of findings were reported by different researchers: For example, the 
results in studies of child-rearing practices varied, possibly reflecting 
the different historical periods in which the studies tvere undertaken. 
In other cases, the data were too fragmentary or based on such small 
studies that, for the time being, their results were mainly suggestive. 
For example, studies of social-class-related linguistic differences are 
based on such small numbers of observations that the differences 
found can hardly be said to have been firmly established. Similar 

41 Peter H. Rossi and Zahava D. Blum 

statements can be made about studies of value patterns or certain 
types of leisure activities. 


In its most extreme form, the position that maintains that the poor 
are qualitatively different is expressed in the claim that there is a 
distinctive culture displayed by the poor — the culture of poverty. 
Although our review of the literature casts considerable doubt on the 
distinctiveness of the poor, there are other aspects of the concept of 
culture of poverty that merit some examination. 

The concept of "culture of poverty" is neither clear nor specific. 
Its popularity and its concomitant rapid diffusion into the rhetoric of 
the War on Poverty have helped to make the concept more impor- 
tant, but not clearer. 

Oscar Lewis (1966) , who apparently coined the term, distin- 
guishes between "poverty per se" and poverty as "a culture or, more 
accurately, as a subculture with its own structure and rationale, as a 
way of life which is passed down from generation to generation along 
family lines.” He then describes the characteristic features of families 
and individuals living in a culture of poverty. 

It is not clear from this definition how distinctively different the 
poor must be in order to be characterized as living in the culture of 
poverty. Several models of class differences that might fit this defini- 
tion are as follows: 

A. The “Greatest Difference" Model. The poor differ from other 
socio-economic groups by displaying proportionately more of the 
qualities and characteristics that increasingly characterize groups as 
one goes down the stratification ladder. Of all low socio-economic 
groups, the poor show the greatest differences from the central tend- 
encies of the society in all critical respects. 

B. The “Only Difference" Model. The poor are the only group 
in the society that displays a particular characteristic, other levels of 
the society stratification system showing only traces of such character- 
istics or no such signs at all. 

From Lewis’s discussion, it is not clear which of these two”^ 
models of patterns of differences from the rest of society is meant by 

^2 Class, StaliLs, and Poverty 

the phrase "a subculture wth its ovm structure and rationale.” I: 
^s'ould seem that tlte concept tvould be of maximum utility a? an 
explanatory tool if it had the meaning of the "only-difrcrcncc" 
model. Hoteever, in all fairness, it should be said that the ‘'grc.itcst- 
difference" model tvould certainly be of some use. Hence, at Ic.ast as 
far as class differentials are concerned, it is unclear whether the evi- 
dence from our review of the literature supports the concept. All that 
can be said is that there is very little, if any, support for the culture 
of poverty concept if by tliat concept is meant that die poor shotv 
unique characteristics. 

Tlie revietv of the literature suggests that those traits used to 
define die culture of poverty are manifested by the c.xtremc poor with 
only somewhat greater frequenq’ than is true of those immediately 
above them in socio-economic status. This is not to deny the impor- 
tance of these characteristics in marking out a group dial displays 
especially aggravated foms and degrees of disabilities, but merely to 
state diat the poor do not display characteristics qualitatively differ- 
ent from those immediately above them in the stratification hier- 
archy, and so on up the ladder. 

The definition of the culture of poverty contains an additional 
crucial element, referring to the transmission of the culture across 
generations. Oscar Lewis’s account of an extended Puerto Rican fam- 
ily claims that the family has lis'ed in the culture of poverty for at 
least four generations.® 

A similar position is taken by "Walter Miller® in his study of 
Roxbury, Massachusetts. Miller does not accept die concept of cul- 
ture of poverty, preferring instead to refer to a "subculturally lower- 
class style of life.” He reports the existence of such a subculture 
extending over a considerable period of time in Roxbuiy'. Thus, he 
finds that Roxbury has included, since the eighteenth century, popu- 
lations that pursued a subculturally lower-class style of life, along 
widi other populadons that did not, and drat the subculture does not 
necessarily involve a group of specific families residing in diat com- 
munity for die period in question. 

Some of the evidence for a culture of poverty that has been 
presented by its proponents concerns the condnuity across genera- 
tions of families on relief. For example, much has been made of 
statistics indicating that for some samples of families presently on 
AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) or public welfare, 
large proportions (up to 40 per cent) come from families of orienta- 

43 Peter H. Rossi and Zahava D. Blum 

tion that were themselves on the relief rolls, for example, Burgess and 
Price (1963). 

These statements are difficult to evaluate because they are not 
placed in juxtaposition with statements concerning the general popu- 
lation. For example, Puerto Rico has been a poverty-stricken terri- 
tory that, despite improvements as a commonwealth, still has a 
standard of living considerably below that of any state in the Union. 
Under those circumstances, most persons in Puerto Rico would have 
been descended from families who have been poor for generations. 
Similarly, we need to know about all the descendants of families 
living in the past in Roxbury to determine whether or not there has 
been a significant amount of cross-generational stability in poverty. 

Data collected for Duncan and Blau on intergenerational 
mobility indicate a considerable amount of intergenerational re- 
shufiling of the population among major occupational groups. For 
example, of those sons presently (1962) listed as laborers (among 
whom presumably the bulk of the lower-lowers would be classified), 
only 12.2 per cent had fathers who were in the same occupational 
category. Most of the unskilled were recruited from families whose 
breadwinners were farm laborers (5 per cent), farmers (31.5 per 
cent) , or operatives (15.4 per cent) Similar findings for nineteenth- 
century Newburyport, Massachusetts, are reported by Thernstrom 

Perhaps the most persuasive argument for intergenerational 
transmission of characteristics comes from studies of child-rearing 
practices. Children in many poor households are being reared in a 
culturally deprived environment that is linguistically and emotion- 
ally impoverished. It is hard to imagine that considerable proportions 
of such children will find their way into the professional and mana- 
gerial occupations. But it is not inconceivable that, despite handicaps 
of early childhood, large proportions will find their way liigher in the 
"blue-collar” occupations than did their parents. If the past is any 
indication, then some poverty is "inherited,” but life chances are 
reshuffled sufficiently in each generation to allow a large proportion 
of the children of the poor to move out. 

All told, the empirical evidence from our revietv of the literature 
does not support the idea of a culture of poverty in tvhicli the poor 
are distinctively different from other layers of society. Nor does the 
evidence from intergenerational-mobility studies support the idea of 
a culture of poverty in the sense of the poor being composed largely 

44 Class, Status, and Poverty 

of persons themselves coming from families living in poverty. That 
the poor are different and sho^v higher rates of a tvide variety of 
disabilities is seemingly well enough documented: If this is \vhat is 
meant by a culture of poverty, then the concept has some validity, 
although perhaps little usefulness. If by the concept is meant some- 
thing more, then the empirical evidence would not support such a 

In some -ways, the concept of a culture of poverty transmitted 
across generations would simplify the problem of how class differ- 
ences in behavior are generated. If there is a subculture of the poor, 
then one may as easily postulate subcultures for the “working class,” 
“middle class,” or any other recognizable class group in the society, 
which together generate the range of socio-economic, status-related 
behavior summarized earlier. All that would be necessarj', within 
such a theoretical model, would be to postulate some initial state in 
which class differences are generated; then, the processes of intergen- 
erational transmission would account for the persistence of differ- 
ences at any point in time thereafter. Calling into question subcul- 
tures of class differences raises the question of how class differences 
are generated, a topic to which we turn in the next section. 

Before doing so, hoivever, it is important to keep in mind tliat 
many of the differences among socio-economic status levels found in 
the literature reviewed are not very great. lATien correlation coeffi- 
cients have been computed, it is rare for a coefficient to rise above .4: 
indeed, the correlation between father’s and son’s occupation is only 
.3-4.^^ Hence, in accounting for socio-economic status differences, 
one is mainly concerned ^vith explaining tendencies rather than ex- 
plaining stark contrasts between class levels. 


Ever since empirical social scientists moved out of the classroom forty 
years ago to study larger social systems presenting a fuller range of 
socio-economic variation, it has been abundantly clear that there are 
small but pervasive and persistent differences among socio-economic 
status levels across a wide range of variables.^^ Yet, considerably 
more attention has been paid to the problem of defining and measur- 
ing socio-economic status than to an explanation of why socio- 
economic status is such an important variable. 

45 Peter H. Rossi and Zahava D. Blum 

This chapter may also be considered a contribution to a major 
controversy over the essential nature o£ social stratification. Three 
major conceptual positions may be distinguished: classes as subcul- 
tures defined by distinctive value patterns and differential association 
(Warner et al., 1949a) ; stratification as the differential distribution 
of resources and income; and stratification as the distribution of 
prestige. In empirical research, the three positions tend to converge 
on a common set of indicators — occupation, income, and education — 
indicating the extent to which the controversy has been primarily 
nominal. In this chapter we have used the concepts of class level and 
socio-economic status as roughly equivalent in meaning regardless of 
the variables used to index them. 

Aside from Merton (1957) and ICriesberg (1963) , explanations of 
socio-economic status differences tend to be ad hoc or regarded as 
self-evid ent. To be sure, many such differences are self-evident in the 
sense Uiat tKey are implied by the measurement of socio-economic 
status position in terms of occupation, education, or income. Thus, 
the concentration of business air travel in the upper socio-economic 
status needs no elaborate explanation: managerial and professional 
occupations require travel as part of occupational duties, while few 
blue-collar occupations require extensive travel by fast transporta- 
tion. But many of the socio-economic status differences are not self- 
evident. Why should the lower socio-economic status levels at the 
same time display higher levels of economic liberalism but less sup- 
port for civil liberties? Why are there quantitative and qualitative 
di fferences in rea ding habits?. With respect. to m any such correlates of 
socio-economic status, the only thing that is self-evident is the need 
for the development of a systematic scheme that accounts for a wide 
range of socio-economic status differentials by postulating a relatively 
small number of generating processes. 

At this stage in the evolution of sociological theory, attempts to 
develop generalizations by examining large amounts of empirical data 
tend to produce explanatory models that are complex and cumber- 
some. Our own attempt is no exception. The scheme described below 
is more complicated than one would ideally desire and as yet insuffi- 
ciently well integrated to provide a clear and unequivocal set of 
predictions concerning what one may anticipate to be related to socio- 
economic status positions in either our own society or stratification 
systems in general. Whatever merit it may have will be mainly as an 
attempt to open up an area for fiurther development. 

Our starting point is to distinguish among three broad classes of 

46 Class, Status, and Poverty 

processes, each of svhich has important, but vanang. implications fj- 
the generation of socio-economic status-related behavior. First, sociev 
economic status levels, by definition, differ ivith respect to income 
and svealth, occupation, and education, each of whidi has;. 
but conceptually distinct, effects on behasnor and attitudes. 'We h.\\c 
labeled these processes "Direct Effects of Socio-Economic Wariabics," 
Second, ve distinguish processes that arise in reaction to the hier- 
archic and evaluational aspects of social stratification. Fiimlly, ve 
point out processes that tend to maintain and reinforce socio- 
economic status differences. These three classes of processes arc prob- 
ably applicable to all stratification systems that tend to be univcrs.nlis- 
tic and achieveraent-orientecL We also consider features of tlic 
American stratification system that are peculiar to our histor)’, in 
particular the ethnic and radal heterogeneity of the American 


Any operational definition of socio-economic status relics on occupa- 
tion, income, education, or some combination of the three to place 
individuals and houseliolds in socio-economic status classes. Whether 
one regards these three variables as indicators of some more basic 
concept of stratification (as do ^Varner and Hollingshead) or as socio- 
economic status itself, they remain tlie major means by which socio- 
economic status is in practice determined and for that reason consti- 
tute the most obvious differences among class levels. 

Obviousness is no bar to importance, however. These three vari- 
ables each generate some of the differences we reviesved earlier, and it 
is important to point out the kinds of effects involved, at least in 
order to separate them from other variables to be considered later 

Because of tlie obvious importance of income and wealth, it is 
particularly disappointing that we know so little about its direct 
effects. The pioneering work of Morgan et al. (1962) represents the 
best of our efforts, but this volume is particularly meager on precisely 
those aspects of poverty that would most interest the sociologist and 
social psychologist. Because of ample amounts of market research we 
know most about tlie influence of income and wealth on consumer 
behavior. Differences in housing, diet, access to life experiences, etc.. 

^7 Peter H. Rossi and Zahava D. Blum 

are all strongly conditioned by disposable income, at least in the 
negadve sense that income and wealth determine whether certain 
consumer goods or life experiences are accessible to the individual, 
although they do not altogether determine whetlier die access ivill be 

The influence of income and wealth on behavior is historically 
conditioned and very much affected by trends in household real in- 
come. Thus, thirty years ago, ownership of a telephone, a mechanical 
refrigerator (as opposed to an icebox), and an automobile ivere 
dosely related to socio-economic status.^® Today, diffusion of oivner- 
ship of these items is so ividespread that such a relationship has 
declined considerably. Similarly, although air travel today is re- 
stricted to a minority of the population and the upper ends of the 
socio-economic status ladder, one can already envisage a time ivhen 
air travel irill be used frequendy by all. 

Occupadonal differences, stripped of income differendals, have 
an effect on class-related behavior through the kinds of skills that are 
e.\erdsed and maintained in die acdvides of the occupadon. Thus, 
part of the reason why higher socio-economic status jurors make more 
contributions to jury deliberations (Strodtbeck et al., 1965; James, 
1964) is that higher socio-economic status occupadons require the 
exercise and maintenance of communicadon and negotiadon skills. 
Studies of the reading habits of adults indicate that white-collar 
workers condnue reading reladvely complex materials throughout 
aduldiood, ivhile manual workers tend to decline in their reading 
habits after formal schooling. The occupational acdvides of upper 
sodo-economic status individuals tend to reinforce and even extend 
the skills acquired diuing formal schooling. 

l\Tiether or not entry into high status levels is becoming increas- 
ingly dependent on educational attainment, Ave can point to such 
differences among socio-economic status levels at the moment as 
being among the most consistent of all. As a generator of class-related 
behador, education functions in two ways: First, formal education 
increases one’s ability to handle abstract ideas and one’s kno'^vledge 
of the ivorld. Tliis relationship often makes it difflcult to judge 
whether or not one has really tapped class differences rather than 
differences in ability to handle abstractions. Thus, that a much larger 
propordon of poorly educated respondents are unable to name the 
ocean that lies bettveen the United States and Emope does not mean 
necessarily that lower-status persons could not find their way from 
Chicago to Europe. It may only mean that ■when asked questions of 

Class. Status, aud Povsrty 

this sort, persons wth more forma] education understand their t:z'~ 
ing more easily.^' 

The second sray in svhich formal education functions is to i~ 
part to the individual a relatively standard conception of schjt it ;! 
to be a full member of society and ss-hat arc tlic obligations cf ; 
dtiren. Thus we find on a sddc variety of measures tlsat tlie betf” 
educated give ansicers that are more in keeping with the cTn-' 
values of the societs. The belter educated arc less prejudiced r- 
scales of attitudes toward minority groups and political dcsiann 
They are more likely to endorse normative statements conccrniji; 
participation in community affairs and to c.vpress interest in sslia: it 
happening in the society and in the rrorld. They arc more likeh to 
e.\press opinions, even on issues of a fictitious nature.’- The c\i 
dence up to now does not allow us to judge whctlicr the better 
educated have a deeper commitment to the main value emphases c! 
our society or whetlier tJiey merely know better what those cnTpfi.Tte> 
are. Most likely both statements are partially true, with the 
question being which should be given more weight. 

Although we have tried to make an analytic distinction hen* 
between education and occupation, in point of fact the two variables 
are so closely related, particularly in the upper reaches of the 
occupational-prestige hierarchy, that they can scarcely be empiricall) 
distinguished. Higii-status occupations, particularly the scientific, 
professional, and technical occupations, ordinarily can only be pur- 
sued by persons of high educational attainment, and the managerial 
occupations are being increasingly dominated by college graduates. 
Hence, in the empirical world, occupational differences tend to 
strongly reflect educational differences and vice versa, which renden 
separation of the effects of these two variables difficult. 


Under this heading we classify processes that involve reaction to sodo- 
economic position. There is abundant evidence from empirical social 
research that there is tvidespread consensus both on the general out- 
lines of the stratification system and on one’s own position in the 
hierarcliy. Studies of the prestige position of occupations in the 
United States and in other countries indicate very* little difference 
befwcen sodo-cconomic status levels in the prestige accorded to ocni- 
pations.’* Respondents on surveys largely tend to identify their class 

49 Peter H. Rossi and Zahava D. Blum 

positions according to their occupations, education, and income. Evi- 
dence from the literature reviewed shows that lower-status persons 
feel deprived and know they are on the bottom of the hierarchy. 

Parsons (1954) views the stratification system as expressing 
society-wide evaluation of social positions, mainly occupational in 
character. To be at the bottom of the heap, then, is to be evaluated 
negatively. Merton (1957) emphasizes another evaluational aspect of 
social stratification: If the norm of the society expresses success in 
terms of the attainment of wealth (or of high occupational position) , 
then those who do not attain wealth (or high occupations) have 
failed. Low socio-economic status is thus a position of failure, and 
persons in that position, argues Merton, may react to their failure in a 
number of ways, as indicated below. 

Closely related to this argument are the explanations given by 
Matza (1966) and Coser (1965) for the appearance of poverty as a 
social problem. Both authors stress that poverty, in an objective 
sense, is characteristic of some groups in almost every large-scale soci- 
ety, but only in some societies is poverty regarded as a social problem. 
The process of creating the “problem poor” or poverty as a social 
problem is a process in which the poor are degraded by being labeled 
failures unworthy of full citizenship in the society. Oscar Lewis 
(1966) 20 takes much the same position (at least by implication) 
when he states that a culture of poverty can only arise in a society in 
which there is upward mobility and considerable unemployment, 
underemployment, or intermittent employment among the unskilled 
or poorly skilled workers. Coser and Matza argue that a particularly 
punishing evaluation of the poor in such societies is created through 
singling out this group for treatments that mark them as much less 
than full citizens. 

The common thread running through the statements of all the 
writers mentioned above is the psychologically punishing situation of 
those on the bottom of a stratification system in a society that stresses 
achievement for all and universalism as a mode of selection for occu- 
pational placement. Of course, there is no reason to restrict this 
process only to those on the very bottom of the stratification hier- 
archy. While it is undoubtedly the case that for the very poor there 
exists the greatest gap between their position and the attainment of 
approbation, the punishment may be viewed as occurring, to some 
extent, all the way up the line, to a diminishing degree as one pro- 
ceeds higher and higher. Indeed, a case might be made that although 
only those who have reached the very pinnacle of the occupational 

50 Class, Status, and Poverty 

system may’ be considered a success in terms of some version of the 
"American dream,” in fact, the experience of success probably comes 
at a lotver level, but still somewhat above the average occupational 
status in the population. 

The negative evaluation of the lower levels of the socio-economic- 
status dimension is manifested in a variety of tv’ays. To begin ■vnth, 
the tone of our society is decidedly middle class. The mass media, for 
example, portray the American household as a middle-class house- 
hold; ■ivorking-class or lotver-class individuals are portrayed as either 
problems or comics. Textbooks, mail-order catalogues, advertisements 
in newspapers, and novels all show much the same pattern. The 
positively evaluated persons — and their dress, homes, and speech — 
are middle class or better. At least by implication, the lower-status 
individual finds himself negatively evaluated because he does not see 
his counterparts put forth in a positive way in the institutions that 
set the tone of the society. 

A second way in which the poor are made aware of their nega- 
tively evaluated position in the society is through the process of being 
designated as poor, hence a problem. The special legislation designed 
to provide some measure of relief for the poor in and of itself places 
them in a special category. It is hard to see how our treatment of the 
poor as a special group can do anything but compound the feeling of 
being less than equal. 

Finally, the most extreme form of negative evaluation manifests 
itself as discrimination. The lower levels of the socio-economic status 
suffer poorer treatment at the hands of schools, stores, banks, law- 
enforcement agencies, medical personnel, and landlords. Some of 
these patterns of differential treatment have been documented in the 
literature reviewed. Others — for example, differential treatment in 
stores and government agencies — can be expected to exist and cer- 
tainly can be obsen'ed readily in a qualitative tvay. In short, at the 
main points of contact with the formal organizations of our society, 
lower-status persons can frequently experience being treated differ- 
ently and Avith less respect, courtesy, and efficiency. 

Discrimination directed against Negroes is, of course, the most 
blatant of all. This is not the place to document the differential 
treatment accorded to Negroes in our society except to state that the 
psychological burden of being lower class for this group is added to 
(or multiplied by) being at the same time a much-discriminated- 
against ethnic group. 

Some of the characteristics of the poor can be seen as reactions to 

51 Peter H. Rossi and Zahava D. Blum 

the punishment of being judged negatively. Merton suggests that 
modes of reaction involve combinations of rejections of goals (mobil- 
ity and wealth) and the means designated by society as legitimate 
ways in ■which such goals may be attained. Under this scheme, those 
who reject the goal of success but accept the means are reacting in a 
“ritualistic” fashion; those '^vho accept the goal but reject the legiti- 
mate means are "deviants”; those who reject both are characterized 
as "retreatists”; and, finally, those who reject both and substitute 
alternative goals and means are characterized as "rebels.” 

The attraction of Merton's paradigm lies in the ob'V'ious similar- 
ity betis'een certain characteristics of the poor and the types of reac- 
tions Merton postulated in his paradigm. The apathy and apparent 
Avitlidrawal of the poor from participation in the society resemble 
Merton’s "retreatist” reaction. The “ritualistic” reaction resembles 
the quiet desperation of tlie "poor but honest” %vho outtv'ardly con- 
form to the society ivliile having given up any hope or desire to attain 
success. Perhaps the most attractive featme of the Mertonian para- 
digm is its explanation of “deviance” as a reaction to the structural 
position of the poor. This theme has been elaborated by A. K. Cohen 
(1955) and in modified form by Cloward and Ohlin (i960) in their 
theories of delinquent:)'. 

The "rebellious” reaction has been given less attention in the 
literature. Indeed, the events of the last three years may shift atten- 
tion from “retreatism” to a concern for "rebellion.” The critical 
issues become ascertaining the conditions under -which a deprived 
and negatively evaluated population shifts from a posture of apathy 
to rioting. There is, furthermore, the question of the development of 
counter-ideologies. Black-nationalist movements, the adoption of 
African dress and hair styles, and separatist tendencies can be 
■viewed as movements to deny the negative evaluations placed on 
being “black” and assert that either "black” is as good as "-svliite,” or 
better. In this respect, the recent shifts in Negro-leadership ideolog)' 
resemble the development of nationalist feelings among European 
peasant immigrants to this countr)'; the content of some pietistic 
sects that promise an afterlife, ivith either a reversed social-class sys- 
tem or an equalitarian one; and, more directly, political movements 
aimed at redistributing po-^ver, prestige, and resources. 

The problems -ivith Merton’s paradigm arise from several 
sources: First, although it is clear that American society rewards suc- 
cess, it is not clear whether success is mandatory or what are the 
dimensions by -with success is to be measured. For example, if the 

52 Class, Status, and Poverty 

emphasis is on income and wealth, tlien entrepreneurial and mana- 
gerial occupations ought to be those toav^ard -whidi ever)one should 
aspire, but if the emphasis is on contributions to knowledge and cul- 
ture, other occupations would be stressed. Second, Merton’s paradigm 
remains mainly a classificatory scheme at present, with little ability to 
predict the appearance of one or another type of reaction for groups 
or individuals in different circumstances. Why does rebellion occur at 
this moment in the history of our urban ghettos, along with criminal- 
ity, retreatist resort to drugs, etc.? To use the paradigm effectively as 
theory' means to go beyond present formulations and to develop 
predictive propositions. Third, by implication, Merton’s paradigm is 
mainly directed toward explaining working-class and lower-class be- 
havior. It seems to the present authors that we need theoretical 
propositions that will cover the reactions in the full range of socio- 
economic status. In some sense, all but those at the very top have 
failed to achieve the fullest degree of achievement urged by the soci- 
ety. The social psychology and sociology of failure trill have to be 
oriented totvard degrees of failure and toward those devices, struc- 
tural and psychological, that insulate individuals and social groups 
from the potentially devastating fact tliat only a very few achieve the 
most that is offered by a society at a given point in time. 

It may be best, for example, to conceive of success and failure as 
defining two continua, rather than being at the opposite ends of the 
same continuum, just as it has turned out to be empirically useful to 
conceive of negative and positive feelings as constituting two separate 
and somewhat unrelated continua, both independently related to 
subjective feelings of happiness. (See Bradburn and Caplovitz, 19G5.) 
If such turns out to be the case empirically, then an individual could 
experience neither success nor failure, or both, or combinations of 
more of one and less of the other. Incidentally, such a conceptualiza- 
tion may provide one of the clues to the mechanisms by which most 
members of our society do not strongly experience failure from the 
viewpoint of not having achieved as much as they are urged to by 
some level of that society. To fail may mean something more than 
not achieving success. 

The main point to be made here is that the social-stratification 
system of an open society with few ascriptive bars to achievement 
creates a situation in which all individuals are subject to positive or 
negative evaluations depending on the degree of achievement. This 
process of evaluation is one that rewards some and punishes others. 

55 Peter H. Rossi and Zahava D. Blum 

generating in turn reactive processes that underlie some of the class 
differences that we found in the review of the literature. It is to this 
soirnce that one should probably attribute the lowered self-esteem of 
the poor,2i their apathy and withdrawal from participation, their 
sense of helplessness and poiverlessness, and the high levels of dissatis- 
faction svdth their position in life. The phenomenon of "value 
stretch” (Rodman, 1963), in which the poor exempt themselves from 
main value themes, can be seen as an attempt at accommodation to 
this type of evaluation. 

It should be noted that these processes are ones that are to be 
found in any stratification system regardless of its level of living and 
its distribution of income. 


IVe turn noiv to processes that tend to maintain differences among 
socio-economic levels. For example, there is no particularly obvious 
reason why child-rearing practices (especially those that do not re- 
quire income expenditures) should not be uniform throughout the 
stratification system unless one postulates that there are barriers to 
the diffusion of knotdedge and practice across such levels.^^ similar 
statements could be made with respect to linguistic behavior — 
particularly dialect — class differences in food preferences, dress and 
cosmetic styles, etc. 

Two major factors can be seen as impeding the diffusion of 
behavioral and attitudinal patterns across class levels. First, the 
different socio-economic status levels are exposed to different media 
and educational experiences. Studies of book-reading and expo- 
sure to newspapers, magazines, radio, and television indicate that 
upper socio-economic status persons read, listen, and view more than 
lower socio-economic status persons and, furthermore, expose them- 
selves to materials of greater complexity and difficulty. Hence, the 
articles in newspapers and magazines that discuss such topics as child- 
rearing practices or diet are more likely to be read by upper socio- 
economic status persons. Obviously, this differential exposure is re- 
lated to educational experiences that provide the individual with the 
skills to assimilate and understand such discussions. But educational 
experience also has a more direct effect because part of the content of 

Class, Sfriftiu fiurl Pnnrrty 

foniinl cdiir.ition i". itiMiiic lion in npccrli, nuirilionnl MnncinrtU, and 
ronrcption*. of ritiyrnship liiat invtdvc j>:i)in;; aiicmion to ilic "scri- 
ons" pan of I hr nni'.'. inr<Iia. 

Tho'.c chanj;inf’, tciulrnrict within the joriciy that arc (iiffincd, 
or at Ira'-t stij>poitr<i hy tradinj:, li'trninj;, aiu! vicv.-in;;, therefore 
move iiKitc 5 lfjU'ly into the jotver Jetrli of the ':fff iocfotiomic siatm 
latidci.*' Tims Monr of the *of iorfonoinir niatii*. tliffcrcnrc^ that 
may hr fonm! at a paiiitniar point in timr rcpir'.ent differential 
difftoion alon;: 'odorfonomii -.tatio linrt, I Imre, ^otnr of the cliffer- 
rnccN .’.Iioun in the hot •rttjhm ran h'- rxp''((cfl to divapjjrar with 
lime, in the ^amc war that oHtofioiifijnir ttatn*. diffnentiah in tele- 
phone o\vn^t^hi}) and the tire of nirrhanleal rcffif;cration have 
lai^cly di<aj)pra:cd in tlic pan three o: four d'-rad'-',. 

7*hcfc<ond majoi mc<hani‘,m mainiainin;; '-fK-iocronomic statur 
diffcicmct involrci dilirtrntlal a*.*o: iaiion alonr; elan liner. \\’ork 
pioijps ftienddiip pronpi. iici;;hho.'htHKh, and iindiip prottps tend 
to !)C JionuK^rncoiu with tr\pr<t to lorioemnomic jtaiin level (oral 
lean moic homop.encotn than landoinU *'-lcctcd indiv jdtiah) . How 
impoitant .ntch informal ‘otial nippnrtr arc tan hr •'•eti in stiidici of 
.«;urh diveire phenomena ar rniitr;; hrharior of ailnln and the inten- 
tions of ad(dcucnts to attend ndlc.jc. In the forrrter ra.«e. a pooel part 
of the leanm for thi" «olidatit) in votim; h'*ha\ior. rlerpitc whatever 
may he the political bias of the ma*i media, lies in the {xrlitical 
homogeneity of informal giunpr. In the latter f.vr, the cla's cornjrosi- 
tion of high schools an cfieci on intentions to go to tollege, modi- 
fying the inflnenccs of the class h.'n {.ground and atadernic perform- 
ance of the young persons ittsohed. Adirlts arc thus responsive to 
the political climates of their small groups, and adcslesccnts are re- 
sponsive to the intcllcctttal climates of their fiigh sthools. 

If we accept the general proposition that face-to-face influences 
arc more effective and persuasive than those emanating from the 
mass media, then we can begin to understand how tire poor manage 
to evade some of the mote putrishing asjsects of being negatively 
evaluated by the social-stratjfication ssstem and hosv they manage to 
maintain patterns of behavior negaided as dcsiant by the larger so- 
ciety. Surrounded by persons who are in much the same socio- 
economic situation as liimself and more oriented toward obtaining 
approval of friends, neighbors, and kin titan to the approval of the 
larger society, an individual can find some support for his particuhar 
style of life. We suggest that this mechanism is considerably more 
important to the maintenance of class didercnccs tlian early child- 

55 Peter H. Rossi and Zahava D. Blum 

hood socialization. It is also a mechanism that helps to understand 
the persistence of other types of group differences along ethnic, reli- 
gious, and regional lines,^® which our review of the literature found 
to be as important as class differences. 

It -would be very easy to exaggerate the amount of socio- 
economic homogeneity in friendship, neighborhood, -ivork, and kin- 
sliip groups. Some types of occupations bring one into contact with a 
range of socio-economic status levels, for example, sales clerk, appli- 
ance repairman, etc., and kinship groups may turn out to be the most 
socio-economically heterogeneous of all the intimate face-to-face 
groups to ^vhich an individual may belong.^s Some amount of cross- 
class contact continually occurs within intimate face-to-face groups, 
for example, enough to account for at least some part of the lack of 
clear-cut class differences as shown in the literature on voting be- 

The processes commented on above are general ones that are 
applicable to all social-stratification systems of a universalistic- 
acliievement type. In order to understand the stratification system of 
American society, hotvever, additional features have to be taken into 
account. Perhaps the most important of all is the ethnic and racial 
heterogeneity of American society. Race and ethnicity are related to 
class in a complicated way that changes over time. The bottom layers 
of our major urban centers are at the present time heavily populated 
by Negro migrants from rural areas and their second-generation de- 
scendants. In the first half of this century, the same layers were occu- 
pied primarily by immigrants and their descendants from eastern 

The strength of ethnic, racial, and the often accompanying reli- 
gious collectivities as determinants of behavior and attitudes is 
considerable. For example, Jews are considerably more liberal in 
their political and economic ideologies than other high-status groups. 
Catholics tend to display standards of family and personal behavior 
that are, in general, more traditional than other groups: And within 
Catholicism, ethnic groups differ from one another. Our kno-^vledge 
of American Negroes as an ethnic group is at the moment very 
meager since it is difficult to specify the content of ethnicity in this 
particular case.^^ 

A major difficulty with race, religion, and ethnicity as generators 
of group differences in our society is that these differences tend to be 
particularistic and do not lend themselves to systematic treatment. 
The surviving cultural traits of the Germans, for example, are pe- 

55 Class, Status, and Poverty 

culiar to that group and appear in a variety of apparcnilv canncic'-.u 
•ways Xo some extent, the class diSerences shown in die literature 
reviewed reflect the vaiying ethnic and racial composition of diflcrcr.t 
socio-economic status levels. "Which and how much of the differences 
can be attributed to tliis source of variation is not knoivn, cspcci.ills 
since ethnicity is not ordinarily used as a variable except in its dis. 
guised forms of race and religion. Rosen (1959), for example, finds 
that ethnicity and religion are as important as socio-economic status 
position in explaining differences in achievement motivation of 
young boys. Studies of presidential elections (for example, 
feld et al., 1948; Berelson et ah, 1954) have found that religion 
an important predictor of voting for the two sets of 
candidates. Knosving the ethnic composition of Detroit, one wonders 
how different tlie interpretation of Miller and Swanson's (195S) find- 
ings would be if the ethnic background of individual respondents 
had been taken into account. 

The persistence of ethnic-group differences over time can be at- 
tributed to differential association. Ethnidty, religion, and race con- 
stitute axes of interpersonal association that possibly rival class in 
importance. "Whatever particular behavioral and altitudinal paiiems 
different ethnic and racial groups either bring trith them or develop 
will therefore tend to persist because of the social support provided 
by the ethnic and racial homogeneity of small informal groups.-’ 

The main purpose of this section has been to lay out the main 
considerations that should comprise a theory' of how class differences 
are generated and maintained rather than to develop such a theoiy 
in detail. Stated in another form, we have tried to decompose the 
concept of sodo-economic status into a number of components, each 
of presumed importance in generating and maintaining class differ- 
ences in behavior and attitudes. 

To return to the initial concerns laid out in the ver)’ beginning 
of this chapter, the viewpoint set out in tliis past section has been 
that which is oriented toward a situational, as opposed to a subcul- 
tural, view of classes in general and of the poor in particular. With 
the exception of ethnicity, race, and religion, the processes stressed 
here whereby dass differences are generated are rooted in tite existen- 
tial nature of sodal stratification. If there is a culture of poverty or a 
subculture of the poor, then it is a condition that arises out of the 
exigendes of being relatively w'ilhout resources and of being nega- 
tively evaluated by the larger sodety. Furthermore, if there is a 

57 Peter H. Rossi and Zahava D. Blum 

culture or a subculture of poverty only in this limited sense, then it is 
not clear what is gained, except dramatic emphasis, by the use of the 


Only minor differences separate the subcultural and situational in- 
terpretations of the poor as far as empirical descriptions of their 
characteristics are concerned. The major disagreement centers over 
hotv these characteristics are generated and, hence, how they may be 
changed. The subcultural view stresses as necessary mechanisms by 
which behavior and attitudes are transmitted across generations, and 
the situational view stresses the structural features of the society that 
generate those characteristics without positing a necessary intergen- 
erational transmission mechanism. Characteristically, whereas the 
subcultural viewpoint stresses the family, the situational viewpoint 
stresses the occupational system as the point to which the levers of 
social policy should be applied. 

It is easy to exaggerate the differences between the ttvo views as 
we have done in the previous paragraph. There are undoubtedly 
transgenerational transmission processes at work ivhereby the views 
and feelings of a parental generation are transmitted to the next, 
hampering or at least dampening the effects that changes in the 
occupational system might bring about. Similarly, subcultures can 
hardly be viewed as rising spontaneously without regard to the larger 
society. Hence, as soon as a subcultural view is pushed by the ques- 
tion of how such subcultures arise, then answers have to be given in 
terms of how such subcultures are functional to the situations of the 
groups involved.3o In the long run, the t^vo views of poverty tvill 
undoubtedly converge. In the meantime, the tactical differences, as 
far as social policy is concerned, will remain, the one stressing the 
mechanisms of socialization and the other stressing the effects of the 
occupational system and social stratification. Since there are better 
spokesmen for the subcultural view than the present authors, we will 
not be concerned with pursuing it any further; rather, we will seek to 
draw out the implications for social policy of the situational view. 

According to the views outlined in the last section of this chap- 
ter, the nature of the poor is generated primarily by their positions in 
the occupational- and social-stiatification systems. To properly draw 

58 Class, Status, and Poverty 

out the policy implications of this position means to consider those 
elements of social stratification that are inherent in any social-class 
system and those that are variable and, hence, subject to change. 

The immutable nature of social stratification lies in the fact that 
some positions in eveiy society will be regarded as in some sense 
better than others. This implies that there are, and will always be, 
some diffeientials in income, life clianccs, prestige, deference, honor, 
or status. But it does not imjjly that the distiibution is identical from 
society to society or from time to time in the same society. Social 
stratification is more a rating system than a ranking system: That is, 
members of a society do not each occupy a unique rank position, but 
many persons can share roughly the same evaluation position. This 
can be seen most clearly with respect to ttvo types of stratification 
variables: income and prestige. Over time, the amount of income in 
tlie society, as well as its distributions, can vary. IVhile completely 
equalitaiian societies in terms of income have not existed on any 
large scale, the share of income attained by different levels of our 
society has changed in the last half century, along tdth the consider- 
able gain in the total real income earned by the system as a whole. 
Similarly, with piestige: Although the distribution of the labor force 
has shifted, the prestige of occupations has not changed to any appre- 
ciable extent over the forty years that studies of occupational prestige 
(Hodge, Siegel, and Rossi, ig66) have been conducted. Compared to 
the igsos, our labor force contains pioportionately greater numbers 
in the more prestigeful occupations. In short, there have been shifts 
in tlie average amount of occupational jjrestige in the occupational 
system and shifts in the distribution of persons toward occupations 
with higher evaluations. 

The implication of this view of social stratification is tliat it is 
not necessary to consider that we must ahvays have some group in our 
society occupying positions that are highly negatively evaluated. By 
reorganizing the division of labor, it is possible to upgrade tasks 
without necessarily merely shifting the negative evaluation from one 
group to another. For example, among the most negatively regarded 
occupations in our society are tliose involving personal service — 
household help and service positions in hotels and restaurants. These 
are industries whose technology has remained essentially the same for 
a considerable period of time. It is conceivable tlrat through techni- 
cal advances the level of workers' skills can be upgraded, tliat the 
occupations can be transformed in the public vierv from servile to 
skilled trades.3i Although it is difficult to look forward at tins point 

59 Peter H. Rossi and Zahava D. Blum 

in time to a period ivhen there are no unskilled and servile occupa- 
tions, it is possible to look fonvard to a time when the proportion of 
such occupations in the labor force is further considerably reduced. 

The same point may be made with respect to income. A guaran- 
teed annual income could put a floor under the consumption status 
of American families that would go far toward the reduction of 
differences in the consumption of goods and services. But an even 
more important function tvould be serv’ed by such a policy’. At the 
moment, income supplementation in the form of welfare and relief 
payments can be obtained only by proving that you are in some sense 
unable to function normally in the society. The means test in what- 
ever benign form is still a means test and functions to brand the poor 
as such. It is significant that Social Security benefits from the very 
beginning have not had attached to them the same negative connota- 
tion as ivelfare pay’ments (Schiltz, 196S), nor have family allowances 
in other countries been perceived negatively. The differences are that 
Social Security benefits have been defined as a matter of right that 
goes to a group neutrally and universalistically defined, tvhile welfare 
goes to a group negatively and particularistically defined. 

According to the view of social stratification held by the autliors, 
jobs would be more important to offer to the poor than income 
maintenance if a choice had to be made, although it might be best to 
provide both simultaneously, supplementing income when jobs do 
not provide the necessary floor for consumption. 

Discriminatory practices, especially for Negroes, are another im- 
portant source of negative evaluation. The effects of the punishment 
of discrimination at the hands of major institutions can hardly be 
underrated as a source of feelings of umvorthiness and failure, and 
increasingly of anger and rebellion. 

The policies suggested above have as their major aim the soften- 
ing of negative evaluations in the stratification system. They are 
designed to produce a society in which there is a floor under house- 
hold resources and a floor under individual self-respect. They are 
designed to remove the most invidious distinctions from our class 
system. Note that they are not aimed at removing all distinctions, 
merely those that are the most punishing. 

Of course, there is more to social stratification than differential 
evaluation. But it is not clear that occupational and educational 
differences and their effects are more difficult to change than those 
arising out of negative evaluation. It will still be the case that college 
graduates will be more articulate and verbally adept than high- 

60 Class, Status, and Poverty 

school graduates and that professional persons will be pursuing occu- 
pations intrinsically more interesting and satisfying than those of 
skilled workers. What can be done in this connection is to shorten 
the gaps between levels. The history of our educational efforts over 
the past century has indicated the extent to which progress can be 
made. Illiteracy has been reduced to such an extent that we no 
longer count (since 1930) illiterates in the Census. Our population 
reads more, probably reads better material, and probably has a larger 
vocabulary than that of fifty years ago. Putting a floor under educa- 
tion would help to give at least a minimum verbal adequacy to all 
levels of the population. 

Concerning participation in decision-making, it is clear that, at 
the moment, the poor and lower-status persons in general are at a 
serious disadvantage. Our participatory institutions have not re- 
warded their participation, nor has their occupational and educa- 
tional experience prepared them for holding their own. But we have 
not exhausted our ingenuity in providing organizations that make it 
easy for lower-class individuals to participate. Some successful exam- 
ples already exist (Silberman, 1964) , proving that it is possible under 
some circumstances to get reasonably high levels of participation 
from the poor. 

In sum, the policy implications of our examination of the rela- 
tionship bettveen social stratification and poverty stress heavily the 
removal of stigmatizing processes in the occupational system and dis- 
criminatory practices of major institutions, and the provision of a 
floor of income and self-respect for every person in the society. While 
we have not indicated the specific policies that would effect tliese 
ends, they are not beyond the range of the innovative capacities of 
our creative society. 


note: Citations in this chapter are to articles listed in the bibliography to the 
Appendix of this volume. 

1. This definition exdudes those who have retired from the labor force and 
those who are disabled through disease or infirmity, e\en tliough their income 
may place them at the lowest portions of the income distribution. They are 
excluded because their problems could be solved by income maintenance through 
transfer payments of some kind. 

2. Obviously this is not a definition that would be useful if one were to try 
to determine the number of poor people in the United States. For present pur- 
poses of reviewing a literature that does not employ standardized definitions, a 
flexible definition permits a wider range of materials. 

61 Peter H. Rossi and Zahava D. Blum 

3. The reader is also referred to the bibliographic revietv appended to this 
volume for all subsequent references. Spurred by the War on Poverty, additional 
extensive systematic researches are presently undensay and can be expected to ap- 
pear in the literature over the next few years, but obviously could not be resierved 

4. Cohen, 1964: Engel. 1966; Harrington, 1962; O. Lewis, 1966; Lockwood, 
i960; Matza, 1966: S. M. Miller, 1964a, 1964b; ^Valter B. Miller, 1938, 1959: Paven- 
stedt, 1965; Riessman, 1962, 1964; and Schneiderman, 1964, 1965. Of these writers, 

S. M. Miller has attempted to elaborate a t^qrology of the lower classes, distin- 
guishing essentially between the "hopeless” poor and those who are attempting 
to cope with their problems. 

5. As described in Rodman (1963) , the concept of "value stretch” is a phe- 
nomenon not peculiar to the lower-lowers. No normative sj'stem is adhered to 
completely by everyone in the society, and depending on the norms in question, 
the latitude given for compliance can be considerable. For example, adulteiy has 
undoubtedly been widespread throughout the whole range of American social 
strata, although there is clear evidence from attitude sun’eys that legitimate 
sexual alliances are to be preferred over adulterous ones. If there is any reason 
for the concept to be applied to the lower-lowers with more force than to any 
other group in American society, it is that their lives (for a variety of reasons) 
depart from standard Americans in more areas and more dramatically. 

6. Some critics have questioned the evidence for the deferred-gratification 
pattern, and some studies have shown that Negroes (presumably the group most 
likely to be among the "poor”) manifest very high occupational aspirations for 
themselves and for their children. 

7. A possible third model would be one in which the relationship between 
a characteristic and socio-economic status would be monotonic and nonlinear, 
such that the poorest group would show considerably more of a characteristic 
than its neighbors than would be expected on the basis of a linear relationship 
between socio-economic status and that characteristic. We do not consider such a 
model for two reasons. First, the data in the literature are too crudely studied to 
be able to make reasonable distinctions betivcen linear and nonlinear relation- 
ships; second, linearity is strongly affected by which metric is used and hence 
can be manipulated by transformations. 

8. Actually, the case histories, themselves, indicate some departure from this 
generalization. One of the individuals referred to her grandfather as a land- 

9. Walter Miller, City Gangs, forthcoming. 

10. U.S. Bureau of the Census, "Lifetime Occupational Mobility of Adult 
Males: March 1962,” Current Population Reports — Technical Series P-23, No. 11 
(1964) . See also Ch. 4 by Duncan, in this volume. 

11. Of course, not all laborers may be considered "poor,” and not all the 
“poor” are laborers. Nevertheless, of all the occupational groups distinguished by 
the Census, laborers contain more of the poor by any definition. Certainly these 
data do not support a contention that a large number of the poor are living in 
"inherited poverty.” 

12. See also Ch. 6 by Themstrom, in this volume. 

13. These relatively low correlations are further evidence against the view 
of the class system as subcultures because they indicate that considerable separa- 
tion between class levels does not exist. 

14. Nineteenth- and early nventieth-century Censuses contained relatively 
meager socio-economic information, and it was difficult to relate such data to 
other characteristics of the population. It should be recalled that major cities 
began to be treated with the 1920 Census, a development that made possible 
ecological studies of the distribution of a variet)’ of social phenomena. For exam- 
ple, ecological voting studies began in the twenties on a fine enough scale to 
establish clear socio-economic status differentials in voting. See Gosnell (1937) 
for an example of one of the earliest studies. 

15. It is particularly important to do so if one is concerned with social jxilic)'. 

62 Class, Status, and Poverty 

Poverty-reduction programs that stress income maintenance need to be distin- 
guished in their effects from policies that stress rehabilitation or retraining. The 
latter are based on an implicit assumption that most of tlie problems of the 
poor stem not from their lack of income but from other sources. 

16. Indeed, ownership of these items was used in an index of sodo-economic 

status in the early days of market research. C/ / [^2 (J 

17. This problem dogs all empirical sodal research to the extent rfat one 

may question whether many of our most cherished findings are not merelv 
disguised measures of educational attainment. For example, answers to the F-scale 
are so strongly related to education that several critics (Christie and Jahoda, 
1954) feel that it is largely measuring education. U3 ' 

18. In an old expenment on response set, Crespi asked a sample of respond- 
ents u’hether or not they tvere in favor of the ‘‘Anti-Metallurgical Bill.” Fewer 
of tlie better educated indicated that they had no opinion on this fictitious issue. 

19. Hodge, Siegel, and Rossi (1966); Hodge, Treiman, and Rossi (1966). 

20. Oscar Lewis also states that traditional sodeties that are not based on a 

wage economy and in -which there are unilineal kinship systems have poverty, but 
not a culture of poverty. 

21. Very dramatically portrayed in the recent study of a AVashington, D.C., 
street-comer gang of Negro men in Liebow (1967) . 

22. Of course, one may also postulate that child-rearing practices are so 
basically a part of personality — particularly of -women — that they are intractable 
to change, induding purposeful attempts on the part of educators and the medical 
profession. Hotvever, if Bronfenbrenner (1966) is correct, since middle-class 
women have changed their child-rearing practices over the last tliirty jears, but 
working-dass tvomen have not, then we would have to postulate that svorking- 
dass women have personalities that are qualitatively different from middle-dass 
women, an assumption that is not warranted. 

23. This researdi literature ss’as not reviewed, except inddentally, in the pre- 

vious section of this chapter. For a review of studies of book reading, see Ennis 
(1965) . Several references to differential exposure to media are contained in Ber^ 
son and Janomtz (1966) . [ ^ 

24. This implies that, by and large, changes in behavioral and altitudinal 
tendendes diffuse from the upper levels of the sodo-economic status structure to 
the losver. There are outstanding exceptions to this pattern, for example, jazz 
music, certain vernacular expressions of speech, etc. David Riesman (1954) , in a 
suggestis’e essay, proposes that instrumental ideas diffuse doiratvard, but that 
expressive ideas diffuse upward. Whether or not he is correct, it still remains 
the case that some cultural items have their origins in the lower sodo-economic 
status levels and diffuse uptvard from that point. 

25. Although ts'e have stressed the importance of this mechanism for the 
maintenance of lower socio-economic status homogeneity, obviously the same 
medranism helps to account for higher sodo-economic status homogeneity as well. 
Indeed, for some areas of behador, for example, voting and political ideolog}’, 
there is eddence that the higher levels maintain greater homogeneity than the 
lon-er. The stress is given here to the lower sodo-economic status levels because 
their homogeneity is maintained in the face of the feet that the sodety, in its 
offidal mstitutions and in the mass media, stresses the higher sodo-economic 
status modes of ideology and behador as modal and model. This is a middle-dass 


26. Indeed, given the relatively low correlation betrveen the occupational 
statuses of father and son, it can be antidpated that similar lotv correlations (of 
the order of 4-.6) can be found among the occupational statuses of siblings. Thus, 
a set of siblings and their spouses can be expected to span a range of socio- 
economic status greater than can be expected to be found within small work 
groups, for example, or perhaps greater than to be expected beween adjacent 

27. The problem lies in the fact that the slavery experience fairly com- 
pletely wiped out all traces of the original cultures that the Negroes brought tvith 

63 Peter H. Rossi and Zahava D. Blum 

than fitini Africa. IMiatever particulax cultural features of .-teierican Negroes 
presently exist are ones that developed vrithin the context of .American society 
2nd, hence, may be only marg inall y differentiated from lcnrer<lass ivhites in the 
rural South. 

sS. For example, among college graduates, those of German ancestry (no 
matter horv remote) tend to be more interested in engineering and physical 
sciences, traits that seem sensibly related to popular conceptions of German 
"national character,” but Irish Catholic graduates tend to be interested in medi- 
cine as a career, a pattern that appears somervhat as a surprise (Greeley, loSj) . 

eq. Vie would anticipate that ethnic and racial patterns concerning family 
roles and interpersonal relations would persist longer than other types of ethnic 
differences. Those ethnic differences that would constitute a handicap in coping 
with the outside world of politics and economic life (for example, observance of 
the Sabbath) would be among the first to disappear, rvhile those pertaining to 
the world of informal small groups svould tend to persist longer (for example, 
food habits, mutual aid, expectations of friends and relatives, etc.) . 

50. Lewis's (igfij) statement of his conception of the culture of poverty con- 
tains an analysis of the structural circumstances under which such cultures arise. 

3:. For example, services have been started in many of the major metro- 
politan areas for periodic housedeaning, employing sltiUed teams of ivoriters and 
advanced housedeaning equipment. The servile aspects of housewoit are removed 
for the worker along with an upgrading of his sldlls and his wages. 

Chapter 3 

^ Poverty: Changing Social Stratification 


Poverty can be viewed in many contexts. Generally neglected has 
been the context of social stratification. However, the limited results 
of poverty programs based upon subsistence standards are now forc- 
ing a lealization that not pauperism but inequality is the main issue 
within high-income industrial societies. When we begin to discuss 
poverty in terms of relative deprivation and inequalities, we are 
posing questions about the over-all social stratification of a nation: 
What are considered “acceptable” gaps between the poor and other 
groups? What are the relevant dimensions for viewing differences 
among groups within the society today? 

This chapter’s first objective is to recast approaches to poverty in 
terms of stiatification. A thorough poverty analysis questions the 
level of living of the nonpoor as well as the poor. As the late Polish 
sociologist Stanislaw Ossowski wrote in his brilliant analysis of social 
stratification, "... a class (is) a member of a certain system of rela- 
tions. This means that the definition of any class must take into 
account the relation of this group to other groups in this system.” ^ 
Not just the poor but the entire society is at issue. As yet, poverty 
programs have not been seen adequately as efforts to engineer 
changes in United States stratification. 

Such a stratificational analysis implies not only viewing the poor 
as those who are lagging behind relative to others in society but 
extending the concept of poverty beyond the narrow limits of in- 

65 S.M. Miller and Pamela Roby 

come. When poverty is viewed within the stratificational framework, 
we see that Max Weber and Richard Titmuss have already made 
major contributions to its analysis. One of Weber’s outstanding con- 
tributions to social science was to untwine three components of 
stratification: class, status, and power.^ The Marxian analysis cen- 
tered on the economic (or class) dimensions of stratification, but 
Weber believed that the prestige (social honor) and political dimen- 
sions of stratification were sometimes independently important. 
These other dimensions could change without alteration in the eco- 
nomic, or they could remain stable despite changes in the economic 
dimension of stratification. With his ividely ranging erudition, 
Weber illustrated his thesis by showing that, for example, a high- 
status group, such as the Prussian Junkers, could retain considerable 
political power despite its reduced economic importance. Conversely, 
a rising economic group, like the bourgeoisie, could have a long 
struggle to obtain prestige equivalent to their economic position. 
Weber sought not to overturn Marx’s analysis but to go beyond it, to 
broaden its perspectives.^ 

More recently, Titmuss has further refined our tools of analysis 
by conceiving of income as the “command over resources over 
time.” ^ He argues that -wage-connected fringe benefits, fiscal benefits 
(for example, tax deductions for children that benefit the better-oEE 
more dian the low-income taxpayer), and welfare (transfer) benefits 
must be included in any discussion of tlie command over resources. 

Recently, we have suggested that a minimum approach by gov- 
ernment in any society with significant inequalities must provide for 
rising minimum levels not only of incomes, assets, and basic services 
but also of self-respect and opportunities for social mobility and par- 
ticipation in many forms of decision-making.^ To gain a better un- 
derstanding of the objectives of various poverty programs and the 
reladonships between these goals, we can look at efforts to reduce 
poverty in terms of (i) what aspect of poverty is the program aimed 
at, for example, the economic, political, educational, and social mo- 
bility, or status dimensions of stratification; and (2) what means does 
the program intend to employ; for example, is the program aimed at 
improving the social conditions of those -tcho are poor (that is, jobs, 
income, housing, health, self-respect) or at moving some of those who 
are poor out of poverty into odier niches in society (that is, via 
educational progi-ams) ? Table 3-1 may help the reader to think 
through diese various objectives with us. 

66 Poverty: Changing Social Stratification 

Table 3- j . Governmental and Private Poverty Reduction Efforts 




economic: political: 

INCOMES, participation EDUCATION 


















Medicare — 

"Black Power” 





Social Security 




in school 

"Black is 








Job training 

Negro separatist Neiv careers 











This typology can aid social scientists in program planning by point- 
ing out the diverse and frequently conflicting goals of programs and 
by highlighting the relatively neglected aspects of poverty. The 
typology may also assist in progi-am evaluation by providing a frame- 
work for pinpointing the goals of programs in question and for show- 
ing the relationship among goals of various programs — first steps in 
any evaluation. The typology leads policy makers dealing with the 
poor to ask what kinds of responsibilites and burdens we wish our 
society to have. For example, to what extent do we wish to improve 
the conditions of the aged or the future conditions of today’s youth? 
To a large extent, these are not narrow technical issues, but value 
issues that may be expected to produce acrimonious debate. 

The second purpose of the chapter is to show that stratification 
theory can be refined and modernized through understanding of 
poverty action. The bearing that empirical research and theory have 
on one another has long been emphasized by Robert Merton and 
others.® Applied social science should also be a “two-way street, 
both drawing from, and contributing to, social theory. The many 
recent "applied” analyses of poverty need to be distilled and added 
to the general corpus of sociological theory.'^ Conceptually, the mit- 
ings of Titmuss on the distribution of “command over resources 

(57 S. M. Miller and Pamela Roby 

need to be connected with those of Parsons and Marshall on the 
meaning of citizenship .8 

The interpretation of any particular historical period may re- 
quire expanding the number of stratificational dimensions or, at 
least, recognizing the peculiar and changing content of each dimen- 
sion. For example, Weber pointed out that, until recently, the center 
of class struggles had progressively shifted from consumption credit 
toward, first, competitive struggles in the commodity market and, 
second, price wars in the labor market.® Which dimension is of most 
importance may also shift.^® In this chapter we will deal with the di- 
mensions of economic class, status, and power, and then with a fourth 
dimension of education and social mobility. Weber’s order will be 
changed to have the discussion of status, which in the long run is the 
basic and most difficult issue of poverty programs, follow that of 
“education and social mobility.” We have added the "education and 
social mobility” dimension because over the past fifty years educa- 
tional attainment and social mobility of offspring have become fac- 
tors differentiating members of the working and depressed classes. 
Today, not only class, status, and power but educational attainment 
and social mobility of offspring determine persons’, particularly the 
poor’s, future standard of living. Therefore, we believe that educa- 
tion and social mobility have become independent stratificational 
dimensions and should be treated as such. 

We hope that other social scientists will also attempt to relate 
"applied” and "theoretical” social science. We believe that doing so 
will enrich American social science by forcing consideration of gener- 
ally neglected facts, by pressing for reconsideration of misleading or 
incorrect theories, by clarifying vague concepts, and by generating 
new theories or conceptual schemes. We are persuaded with Dahren- 
dorf that if we as social scientists "regain the problem-consciousness 
which has been lost in the last decades, we cannot fail to recover the 
critical engagement in the realities of our social world which we need 
to do our job well.” We believe that refinement of stratification 
theory through analysis of applied sociology will in turn strengthen 
social scientists’ efforts to reduce poverty. 


Weber’s discussion of the class or economic dimension of stratifica- 
tion is built on Marx, but, as elsewhere, Weber attempted to broaden 

68 Poverty: Changing Social Stratification 

the Marxian peispective. Marx’s analysis was based on the material 
and social relationships to the production process. Weber shifted 
from the sphere of production to that of the market or exchange and 
defined class as: 

... a number of people who have in common a specific causal component 
of their life chances insofar as this component is represented exclusively by 
economic interest in the possession of goods and opportunities for income, 
and is represented under the conditions of commodity or labor markets.12 

The economic dimension of stratification, in Weber’s conceptualiza- 
tion, included a great variety of explicit and implicit market rela- 
tionships. As we shall discuss later, the major development today in 
many societies is the beginning of an important break between the 
market and well-being.^^ 

The post-^^’^orld "War II era saw a proliferation of studies in 
which the central explanatory or classificatory variable was occupa- 
tion.^^ The cunent concern with poverty is, by contrast, focusing on 
income. There are seveial reasons for the growth of interest in in- 
come as the definer of class position: 

1. The links between occupation and income are becoming fuzz- 
ier. The range of income of incumbents of particular occupational 
positions appears to be getting ivideni® The result is that a descrip 
tion of occupation poorly predicts income. 

2. The poor are a congeries of groups ■who share low income in 
common, but frequently not many other things. While some of the 
poor are definable by their low-paying jobs, many otlier poor are 
outside the labor force and dependent on transfer income of various 

3. Government policy, growing in importance, defines groups 
mainly by income levels whether for purposes of income taxes or 
welfare assistance. 

In turn, income is an inadequate indicator of economic level. 
Witliin the “^velfare state,” the resources that are available to indi- 
viduals are a mosaic of the income derived from market activities, 
from the “fringe benefits” attached to various occupations and organ- 
izations, from the operation of the tax system, from various public 
and private transfer and pension systems, from assets -jvhether pro- 
tected or pseudo as in the case of many capital gains, and from the 
availability, utilization, and quality of public goods. 

69 S. M. Miller and Pamela Roby 

Weber’s notion of class must be widened beyond that of property 
and the market. In particular, in the “welfare state,’’ many impor- 
tant elements of the command over resources become available as 
public services. The distribution and quality of these public services 
affect the absolute and relative well-being of individuals.i’^ Consid- 
erable inconsistency may exist between the income and basic services 
of persons or groups. While the two are fairly closely linked in the 
United States, poor basic services are not associated with low income 
in Sweden.^® 

A larger issue is also involved. As Marshall has argued, the 
welfare-state approach is to break the link between the market and 
well-being.^® The role of government is tremendously increased.^® 
To a growing extent, the command over resources of the individual 
depends on his relation to government, whether in terms of income 
tax, subsidies, licensing, or public services.®^ The concept of “prop- 
erty” has therefore to be enlarged and altered to include the perspec- 
tives of time in pension accumulations and of rights to governmental 
largesse and services, especially education. Property, in the more con- 
ventional sense, still remains important, but other forms of rights of 
determination are beginning to possess similar importance. 

This broadened view of the command over resources has impor- 
tant political implications.®® If government plays a major role in 
affecting the command over resources, then organized action will be 
increasingly centered on the governmental arena. When Marx wrote, 
the arena of action was more narrowly the workplace, the setting of 
production. In the United States, low-income persons have been or- 
ganizing to affect their rights to welfare and to other forms of govern- 
ment services rather than to affect the economic market. As we shall 
see in our discussion of power, the relationships to government bu- 
reaucracy have become important not only for the poor but for all 
segments of American society.®® 

The primary point, then, in the effort to modernize the discus- 
sion of class is to become aware of the different and new elements in 
the command over resources over time and of the new role of the 
government as a direct distributor of resources. The issues of class 
and economics are intimately politicized as the market place and 
property are affected by governmental action and political forma- 

TO Poverty: Changing Social Stratification 


Not only is the government becoming a direct dispenser or with- 
holder of resources, but it is also regulating, controlling, and direct- 
ing the economy, even in nonsocialist societies. Efforts to spur eco- 
nomic grou'th and to prevent recessions inevitably involve questions 
of ivho is to benefit, tvlio is to pay the costs of trying to keep prices 
from rising rapidly, who is to be disadvantaged by economic changes. 
The expanding role of government means that presumed notions of 
market automaticity succumb to political decisions about who gains 
and loses.-^ These decisions are supposedly made on immutable 
technical grounds alone.-® But, with greater sophistication, these 
decisions are found to be based on a political struggle among groups 
and individuals possessing different values.^® 

Consequently, political position becomes increasingly important 
in affecting tlie command over resources. The political dimension of 
stratification grows in significance. Political organizations are based 
not only on relations to the private market but to the developing 
“public market” in whicli key decisions are made. 

The political dimension has its roots in tire right to vote.®’’ As 
voting becomes a rvidespread legal right in many societies like the 
United States, rvith important differences in iniergroup voting rates, 
the issue becomes how to get all groups to use their vote. This means 
dealing rvith the overt and covert barriers to voting.®® Another level 
connected with the interest in voting is the degree, kind, and effec- 
tiveness of organization of various interest positions. Currently, lorv- 
income groups are beginning to develop organizations (whether in 
the form of activist clubs for the aged or political associations of 
slrrm residents) that push more effectively for programs dealing with 
their problems. 

Today, the social-stratification, theorist must devote attention to 
political issues that go beyond voting.®® The emergence of many 
institutions dispensing services and resources has meant that the well- 
being of individuals depends to a large extent on bureaucratic deci- 
sions in an immediate sense rather tlian political decisions in the 
broad sense. The bureaucracies of the welfare state have considerable 
discretion in the way they disperse their funds and services. Bu- 
reaucratic decisions having deep impact upon the well-being of both 
the poor and the nonpoor have been somewhat removed from access!- 

71 S.M. Miller and Pamela Roby 

ble political processes. As a consequence, there is a growing attack on 
“welfare bureaucracy” as infringing upon the rights of individuals, 
making capricious decisions, “professionalizing” and technicizing de- 
cisions that should be political decisions. 

The concern in the United States with “participatory democ- 
racy,” “maximum feasible participation” in the poverty programs, 
and “community representation” are manifestations of the effort to 
deal with the growing impact of welfare-state bureaucracies and the 
more obvious social-control agencies, like the police, on the lives of 
most.^° The ability to be relatively insulated against bureaucratic 
mishandling and injustice is differentially distributed in society — the 
better-off and better-educated groups manage more effectively than 
the low-income and the low-educated groups.^i 

At one level within the economic dimension, the issue is to what 
extent are individuals protected against control by bureaucratic 
agencies? At another level, the issue is becoming: To what extent are 
political processes being transformed so that recipients of government 
benefits become consumers and citizens with a decision-making role 
rather than dependents without choice or any degree of sovereignty? 
Both levels require the extension of traditional stratificational analy- 
sis of power to the new instruments of government, administration, 
and distribution of resources. 


In today’s credential society, which places heavy emphasis on educa- 
tional attainment for entrance into higher-level occupations, educa- 
tion becomes a crucial dimension in social stratification.^^ The 
importance of education is illustrated by Wilensky’s and Duncan’s 
findings that it is the only variable that consistently ranks all the 
white-collar strata above each of the manual and farm strata.®® In 
addition to its economic role, educational experience affects the way 
individuals are treated by other people and by organizations and 
bureaucracies of one kind or another. An individual with inadequate 
education is an outsider, less able to take advantage of the opportu- 
nities that exist, and is treated less well than those with the same 
income but a higher education. American Negroes’ great interest in 
education, for example, is partially due to the protection that educa- 
tion provides against nasty treatment. 

Educational attainment of children is only a partial function of 

72 Poverty: Changing Social Stratification 

the income of parents. Below the highest iq levels, the education of 
parents is more important than their income in affecting the educa- 
tional experience of children. Economic position is thus not a fully 
adequate indicator of the educational prospects of children. 

Many governmental policies are aimed at producing a break 
between the economic position of the child and of his parent. The 
aim is mtergenerational social mobility rather than improving the 
conditions of the poor today. For example, the emphases in the IVar 
on Poverty on job-training programs (for example. Job Corps, Man- 
power Development) and on education (for example. Headstart, Ele- 
mentary and Secondary Education Act) are essentially programs in 
social mobility. The programs aimed at the young, like Headstart, 
obviously aim for intergenerational mobility, while those designed for 
older persons, like many of the Manpower Development and Train- 
ing Act programs, seek intrngenerational mobility. 

What is the value of casting these poverty and manpower pro- 
grams in the language of mobility? In some cases, the mobility per- 
spective points out tliat program goals are too low. In some job- 
training programs, for example, “success" is recorded if the individ- 
ual secures a job, even if tlie job pays no more or is no less of a dead 
end tlian his previous job. Similarly, lotv-rvage full-time employment 
may not be a substantial mobility step over unemployment or irregu- 
lar employment. 

The mobility approach may also indicate tlie possible impor- 
tance of stratum or group mobility.^'^ Important gains may be 
achieved not only by moving individuals out of particular lotv-tvage 
occupations but by securing a substantial improvement in the occu- 
pations’ relative position in terms of wages, status, and conditions. 

The stratificational approach also encourages studying the fac- 
tors that impede or promote mobility. Lack of education may be a 
less important barrier than current common sense suggests, while 
discrimination may continue to be significant. 

As societies become increasingly future-oriented, a crucial di- 
mension of stratification is what happens to the children of different 
strata. The current position of families only partially denotes future 
positions. Blau and Duncan found for instance that “nearly ten per- 
cent of manual sons achieve elite status in the United States, a higher 
proportion that in any other country.” Commenting on their find- 
ings, tliey ^vTOte, "The higli level of popular education in the United 
States, perhaps reinforced by the lesser emphasis on formal distinctions 
of social status, has provided the disadvantaged lower strata wth 

75 S. M. Miller and Pamela Roby 

outstanding opportunities for long-distance upward mobility.,” 
Hopefully, public policies will make sharper the break between the 
present of the family and the futtire of the child. Consequently, 
social mobility, an important part of Weber’s concept of "life 
chances,” should receive attention as an independent vector of strati- 

Obviously, there are important questions concerning the signifi- 
cant economic-political-social boundaries of high and low position. 
Social-stratification analysts have been slow to refine the manual/ 
nonmanual divide. Our conclusion is that the increasingly important 
social divide is not between the manual and nonmanual groups, but 
bettreen those tvith and without a college diploma — betsveen those in 
professional and managerial occupations and the rest of the society. 
As Kolko has remarked, "Economic mobility in a technology and 
society enormously — and increasingly — dependent on the formally 
trained expert ultimately reflects the extent of equality in educa- 
tion.” 38 Important differences obviously exist below the professional- 
managerial level, but the expanding “diploma elite” is becoming 
distinctly advantaged in society.^^ Their advantage is not only eco- 
nomic, but social and political as well. The diploma elite manages to 
achieve deference and decent treatment from governmental organiza- 
tions, and at the same time — perhaps because of this — is able to 
organize effectively as a political voice. As the complexity of life in 
the United States increases, we may expect the importance of educa- 
tion to grow. 


Weber’s discussion of the status dimension of stratification has fre- 
quently been compressed into an analysis of family or occupational 
prestige rankings. This reduction is an inadequate rendering of what 
tvas obviously intended to embrace the socio-psychological dimen- 
sions of stratificational systems. ~~ “ ““ 

Three dimensions are worth distinguisliing here: “social honor,” 
styles of life, and self-respect. In Weber’s usage, "social honor” re- 
ferred to the social evaluation by others of a class or political group. 
As we have noted earlier, a high economic class may or may not have 
high social prestige at any particular moment in time. This can be 
seen through patterns of interaction such as intermarriage among 
groups and classes. 

74 Poverty: Changing Social Stratification 

Social honor is externally awarded on a variety of bases: income 
occupation, education, family history. In the past, American sociolo- 
gists probably overstressed the significance of prestige and under- 
stressed the importance of class, but prestige is again groudng in 
importance as a dimension of stratification.^s Because social honor 
significantly affects government policy, its importance grows ^\•ith the 
increasing importance of government action affecting persons’ rvell- 
being and command over resources. For example, a group that is 
regarded as "undeserving poor’’ is much less likely to be aided than 
"deserving poor.’’ Prestige, then, is intimately tied to access to re- 
sources. It also, as we shall discuss later, affects self-respect. 

The issues of desegiegation, especially in housing, in the United 
States ’also point up the significance of prestige. Undoubtedly, much 
of the slowness in making it possible for blacks to have effective free 
choice in housing locations is due to class feelings — disturbance 
about "lower-class” black families. Nonetheless, a considerable part 
of the resistance against black mobility is directed against blacks as 
a status group regardless of class levels. 

The development of national states accentuated the problems of 
ethnic minorities. These problems will probably increase again with 
the tide of foreign, low-level workers in many European nations. 
Ethnic and class factors will intertwine to make the prestige of a 
grouping an important factor in the way that it is treated. Alwine de 
Vos van Steenwijk and P^re Joseph of Aide a Toute D^tresse tell us 
that in France the way that poverty is viewed largely depends on 
w'hether the poor are thought to be of French or foreign background. 
In the United States, attitudes toward dealing with poverty combine 
with die stress on the importance of blacks as a poor group and the 
shifting compound of feelings about blacks. 

The increased significance of government as the conveyer of the 
command over resources also complicates the traditional relation- 
ships between source of income and "social honor.” The conclusions 
of yesterday were simple: Earned income is more prestigious than 
unearned income (unless it is very high unearned income) ; legiti- 
mate income is better than “illegitimate” income. Today, the evalua- 
tions of the different bases of income are cloudy. Income given to 
public-assistance clients leads to low prestige; but financial assistance 
to farmers in the form of money subsidies or to entrepreneurs in the 
form of tariffs does not.^® Payments to the retired, which purportedly 
have a relationship to their contributions to a fund during their 
lifetime, are not stigmatized income even if the relationship of con- 

75 S.^^. Miller and Pamela Roby 

tribution and payment is indeed remote. Payments to youth •who go 
to school are not regarded as habit-forming or character-debilitating. 
When made to poor families, tliey are often so regarded. 

Thus, it is not government pa)Tnents and contributions per se 
but their basis that is unprestigious. If the payments are connected to 
the operation of the production system (tariffs, agricultural subsi- 
dies) or to the future productivity of workers (education) or to previ- 
ous work status, then stigma does not attach to the support. 

By styles of life, the second dimension of status, we refer to the 
norms and values of particular groups.'*® If social honor is the way 
the group is regarded from without, styles of life refer to tlic ■rvay the 
group behaves. Obviously, styles of life and their interpretation affect 
the bestowal of social honor.*i 

The determination of styles is no easy matter; it is difficult to 
h.ivc a summation of a style that is not judgmental and even more 
difficult to have a style description that does not fall afoul of compet- 
ing efforts to utilize that description in the struggle for policy choices. 
The significance of style of life underscores the importance of status 
considerations in government decisions as well as the importance of 
government decisions. 

Because of the importance of styles of life in affecting social 
Iionor and public polic)’, social science becomes particularly political. 
Its mode of interpretation has strong reverberations. Yet, the knowl- 
edge base from which descriptions and interpretations arc made is 
limited and controversial. In an important sense, however, this has 
always been true; the interpretation of the social stratification of a 
nation is always a most sensitive political issue. What is striking in 
the present is the particular importance of styles of life. The greater 
controvcrsiality may be due not only to the fact of greater stakes 
(government is more likely to do something now than in the nine- 
teenth ccntuiy) but to the production of a larger number of fairly 
independent social scientists and to the politicalization of issues that 
provide once-neglected groups with spokesmen. 

Current research on the poor is leading to the rejection of the 
notion of the one style of life among this group.*- It is always diffi- 
cult to make a historical statement, since much of the past is senti- 
mentalized in the telling, but it docs appear that life-stslc hetero- 
geneity svithin a grouping is indeed increasing. One reason for this is 
the greater variety today of cross-pressures in societies that arc in- 
creasingly national and in which more styles are visible throueii 
travel, the mass media, and more public life. A second rca<on unde: 

76 Poverty: Changing Social Stratification 

lines the mode of stratificational analysis proposed by Weber: 
Change in one dimension of life does not automatically produce 
change in other realms. Discontinuities often result from a rapid pace 
of change in which spurts and lags are pronounced. 

The heterogeneity of styles is important in two ways. One has 
been referred to already: The receptivity to aiding particular groups, 
and especially the poor, depends to a large extent on their “social 
honor.” In turn, their social honor depends largely on what purports 
to be their life style. Those low-income groups with more appealing 
life styles are much more likely to be given some aid. The second way 
that heterogeneity affects policy is that any given policy is likely to fit 
more easily into the style and condition of one section of the poor 
than another. The result frequently is, whether intended or not, the 
process of “creaming,” working with the best off or most adaptable of 
the poor. It usually takes some time to discover that the policy left 
behind groups with other life styles or other class positions. 

The process leads to the question of whether groups need to 
change their life styles in order to be able to take advantage of new 
opportunities in the private market or in governmental policies. 
Here, style of life becomes an element in the efficacy of change rather 
than a moral gatekeeper of whether or not a particular group should 
be helped. 

Frequently, in the United States, life styles are discussed in terms 
of relatively impenetrable barriers that the culture or subculture of 
poverty places in the way of advance. An alternative formulation, 
which Riessman and Miller have attempted to develop, emphasizes 
those aspects of low-income life styles that must be considered in 
order to make public policies more effective.^s xhe stress is on reduc- 
ing strains, obstacles, and difficulties of policy rather than on castigat- 
ing the poor or ignoring their particular outlook. 

In a sense, what is important about the styles of life of groups, 
especially those most needful of governmental aid, is largely deter- 
mined by the political culture of a nation. Whether the bases of life 
styles are ethnic or marginal economic circumstances, what is crucial 
about them is the way they interact with political values concerning 
who should be helped, how they should be helped, and how the 
behaviors of those helped should change. The style-of-life variable 
has become more highly charged than it was for Malthus. 

Self-respect, the third dimension of status, points to the way the 
grouping regards itself. It is a complex admixture of economic and 
political conditions, social honor, and styles of life. In it, feelings of 

77 S. M. Miller and Pamela Roby 

relative deprivation generally represent only a rough approximation 
of actual inequalities existing within a society.'*^ The discussion of 
poverty, at least in tlie United States, should make us atvare that only 
the narrowest view of poverty would make it a problem of income 
alone. In the spongy openness of the affluent society, poverty becomes 
not only a shorthand expression for inequality but also a truncated 
phrase for the many ways in which the poor are different in society. 

One does not have to accept all the nostrums of change that are 
offered in the United States to recognize the importance of a feeling 
of dignity, of inclusion and participation in the society that goes 
beyond the attaining of an income above a minimum level. Obvi- 
ously, rising income alone may not wipe out external stigma and 
internal group hate and deprecation. On the other hand, gains in 
group respect are unlikely if the group falls behind the rising stand- 
ards of society. Between these two boundaries, many kinds of 
permutations are possible. 

One can interpret Negroes’ interest in “maximum feasible partici- 
pation” in the local decision-making of the War on Poverty in many 
ways, but an important interpretation in terms of stratification 
theory is that it represents the politicalization of the issue of self- 
respect. One does not have to believe that the poor are the ultimate re- 
pository of all wisdom about what poverty means and what should be 
done about it to recognize that this politicalization recasts the search 
for self-respect in new ways, making a political issue out of what has 
appeared to be a personal struggle. Access to self-respect, despite its 
curious formulation, becomes one of the important dimensions of 
social stratification. The alienated nonpoor have had an opportunity 
to make a choice; not so with the poor. 


Casting the issues of poverty in terms of stratification leads to regard- 
ing poverty as an issue of inequality. In this approach, we move away 
from efforts to measure poverty lines with pseudoscientific accuracy. 
Instead, we look at the nature and size of the differences between the 
bottom 20 or lo per cent and the rest of society. Our concern becomes 
one of narrowing the differences between those at the bottom and the 
better-off in each stratification dimension. 

In casting many of the issues of poverty in terms of stratification, 
we do not wish to imply that the poor are a fixed homogeneous group 

78 Poverty: Changing Social Stratification 

that shares a common outlook. Rather, we see the poor as those who 
lag behind the rest of society in terms of one dimension, or more, of 
life. There may be considerable turnover in these bottom groups. 
Although we lack data showing what proportion of persons in the 
bottom groups move in and out of poverty, we do know that a life- 
cycle pattern is of some importance, for the risk of being at the 
bottom is much greater for older individuals.^® There is undoubt- 
edly a greater turnover in the bottom 20 per cent of the population 
than is commonly believed by those who stress inheritance and 
“culture-of-poverty" theories. Even with a high turnover, however, 
questions concerning what size and kind of disparities are acceptable 
between those who fall behind and others in society remain impor- 

We hope that our effort to place some poverty-action issues in 
the context of social stratification is not merely a translation from 
one language of discourse to another. Therefore, we must ask what 
would be done differently if poverty problems were seen as issues in 

First, we believe that poverty programs would aim for higher 
targets. Reforming the social structure so that the differences among 
individuals are reduced usually requires higher goals than bringing 
individuals up to a rather low economic standard. 

Second, a stratificational approach requires constant adjustment 
of the targets, for as the better-off groups advance, new levels and 
kinds of concerns for the bottom-most should emerge. A fixed level of 
well-being is no longer the aim. 

Third, a stratificational approach implies that economic goals 
arc not the only important objectives. Frequently, the economic goal 
of raising annual incomes to a $3,000 level has been treated as 
though it were the only significant objective. The multidimensional 
concerns of stratification force attention to the noneconomic aspects 
of inequality. 

Fourth, we see that changes and shifts in one dimension do not 
automatically produce changes in other dimensions. Economic gain 
does not ensure automatic attainment of other goals. Indeed, much 
of contemporary stratificational analysis is about this problem — and 
much of the difficulty with appraisal of poverty strategies is that little 
is known about the multiplier effect of each strategy.*® 

Fifth, a stratificational approach suggests that style-of-life vari- 
ables may be important in the construction and conduct of programs. 
This statement does not suggest a culture of poverty, but an effort to 

79 S. M. Miller and Pamela Roby 

make policies and programs relevant and appropriate to the life 
styles of tlieir intended consumers. 

Finally, ive see that many programs aimed at mo^'ing youth out 
of poverty have neglected vital dimensions of the youths’ lives. Many 
social-mobility' programs have aimed at enhancing the prospects of 
youth tvithout improving the conditions of their families. Other pro- 
grams have sought to improve the education of children rv'ithout 
improving the schools that they attend. Headstart and Job Corps, for 
e.xample, have attempted to create a parallel educational system 
rather than change educational institutions. In these instances, the 
social setting of behavior has been neglected. 

Conventional poverty discussions are thin because they are cast 
in terms of nineteenth-century concerns about pauperism and subsist- 
ence rather than in nventieth-century' terms of redistribution. 'We 
are not clear about the goals of reduction of poverty and inequality 
because ve have not forthrightly discussed our objectives. ^Fhen pov- 
erty is vietved in the stratificational perspective, we see that the goal 
of bringing all families up to a certain income level cloaks disagree- 
ments about the relative importance of differing, often conflicting, 
objectives. For example, at the level of objectives of efforts to change 
the stratificational system, are we seeking a classless society ^vith only 
minor differences among individuals; or is the goal a meritocracy’ in 
ivhich individuals have in actuality equal access to high-level jobs 
that are highly rev'arded; or do we seek to connect an "underclass,” 
■iv'hich does not improve its conditions as much as the rest of the 
society does, into the processes that will begin to make it less distinc- 
tive; or do we seek to reduce the gaps in some vital dimensions 
betireen the nonpoor and the poor? Each of these viei\’S implies a 
belief concerning Avhat is important about stratificational systems, 
hotv permeable these systems are, and ho'^v’ other goals should be 
balanced against the concern with the underclasses. 

The stratification perspective leads us to see that in dealing with 
poverty we are dealing 'vs'ith the quality of life of individuals and not 
just their economic positions. Tliis means that not only individuals’ 
relationship to government but the quality of relationships among 
people in society is important. Although governmental and organi- 
zational action is needed to diminish the economic and political 
inequalities separating people, we as indi'i'iduals must assume re- 
sponsibility for changing the quality of relationships among ourselves. 
Ultimately’, change in the distribution of "social honor” and self- 
respect, the most fundamental aspects of stratification, can only be 

83 S. M. Miller and Pamela Roby 

social and political participation.” Dahrendorf, “Recent Changes in the Class 
Structure of European Societies,” op. cit., p. 239. 

28. Janowitz notes that in Great Britain, Germany, and the United States 
"there is a tendency for persons in the lower working classes to have a higher 
degree of non-party affiliation than in the other strata of society.” Hotvever, he 
notes that the source of ineffectite political participation lies not in income and 
education per se, but "as a series of life experiences which produces persons . . . 
without adequate institutional links to the political system.” Furthermore, 
". . . such disruption can occur at various points in the social structure, for 
example among elderly men and women living outside family units.” Morris 
Janotvitz and David R. Segal, "Social Cleavage and Party Affiliation: Germany, 
Great Britain and the United States,” American Journal of Sociology, LXXII, 
No. 6 (May 1967) . 

29. Parsons has pointed out that inclusion ("the process by which previously 
excluded groups attain full citizenship or membership in the societal community’^ 
requires not a “mere statement that it is necessary for justice but that the group 
has the capadty to contribute to the larger society,” . . , and as long as the 
group doesn’t have that capacity, "the larger society needs to develop it." Because 
inclusion of an excluded group requires the mobilization of the entire society. 
Parsons suggests that it is useful to conceive of political power more broadly 
than usual. “Essential as government is, it does not stand alone in implementing 
major political changes.” For example, "the political problems of integration 
involve all fields of organizational decision-making, especially for business firms 
to accept Negroes in employment, for colleges and universities to admit them for 
study, for trade unions to avoid discrimination.” Parsons, "Full Citizenship for 
the Negro American?,” op. cit. 

30. Marshall’s categorization of "four degrees of cooperation” is useful in the 
consideration of many forms of political participation as well as of the relation- 
ships bettveen employers and employees for which it teas originally intended; (1) 
'information: . . . men though informed of dedsions, have no share at all in the 
making of them”; (2) “consultation”: persons "are not only informed before a 
decision is taken but have an opportunity to express their views on points that 
concern them. These views may or may not be taken into account when the 
dedsion is made; there is no transfer of authority”; (3) “delegation”: persons 
"have been informed and consulted and their vietvs have been taken into account 
in formulating a plan, then . . . small groups of them may be asked to tvork 
out the details for executing part of the plan”; (4) "joint control” exists in 
cases such as those in tvhich “workers are represented in the management.” 
Marshall, op. cit., pp. 244-245. 

31. After a four-year court battle, Alameda County (California) atvarded 
$23,000 in back pay to a social-welfare worker ivho was fired for refusing to 
partidpate in the welfare department’s "operation bedcheck.” It is less likely that 
the female welfare recipients whose homes were invaded by is-elfare workers 
without search tvarrants tvill be recompensed. Berkeley Barb, August 24, 1^67, p. 7. 

32. See S. M. Miller, “Breaking the Credentials Barrier” (Netv York; The 
Ford Foundation, 1968). Lenski has written, "Of all the changes linked with 
industrialization, none has been more important than the revolution in knotvl- 
edge. . . . From the standpoint of the occupational dass system, this develop- 
ment has been highly significant. To begin with, it has been responsible for the 
considerable growth in size, importance, and affluence of the professional dass. 
Second, it has caused education to become a much more valuable resource, and 
made educational institutions far more important in the distribution of porver 
and privilege, than ever before in history.” Gerhard Lenski, Power and Privilege 
(New York: McGraw-Hill, 1967) , p. 364. 

33. Otis Dudley Duncan, “Methodological Issues in the Analysis of Social 
Mobility’,” in Neil Smelser and S. M. Lipset, eds.. Social Structure and Mobility in 
Economic Development (Chicago: Aldine, ig66) ; Harold ^Vilensky, "Class. Class 
Consdousness and American AVorkers,” in AVilliam Haber, ed., American Labor 
in a Changing World (New York: Basic Books, 1966) . 

84 Poverty: Changing Social Stratification 

34. See S. M. Miller, “Comparative Sodal Mobility,” Current Sociology, \'ol 
IX (i960). 

35. Peter M. Blau and Otis Dudley Duncan, The American Occupational 
Structure (New York; Wiley, 1967) , p. 435. 

36. Gabriel Kolko, Wealth and Power in America: An Analysis of Social 
Class and Income Distribution (New York: Praeger, 1962), p. 113. 

37. See Miller, “Comparative Social Mobility,” op. cit. 

38. Richard Hamilton has contended that sociologists have overstressed the 
blurring of status or prestige lines. He believes this has occurred because (i) al- 
though sociologists talk much about status-seeking activity, they have inadequately 
researched the matter: and (2) they consequently turn to income trends that they 
inaccurately assume to he becoming more equal and then assert that status and 
consumption patterns are also becoming equalized. Hamilton, op. cit., p. 1. 

39. Assistant Secretary of the Treasury Stanley S. Surrey has suggested that 
tax savings that accrue to individuals and groups from preferences or loopholes 
in the tax law should be reported as federal “expenditures.” If this were done, 
the Commerce Department would show one billion dollars for aiding business in 
the form of special deductions. The New York Times, November 12, 1967. Fifty- 
five per cent of total 1963 government payments to fanners went to the top 
11 per cent of all farmers, those with farm sales of §ao,ooo and over. Theodore 
Schultz, “Public Approaches to Minimize Poverty,” in Leo Fishman, ed.. Poverty 
Amid Affluence (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1966) ; see also 
Philip M. Stem, The Great Treasury Raid (New York: Random House, 1964). 

40. As elsetvhere in this chapter, we assume that we are dealing with a 
group defined economically in class terms and that tve are pursuing the political 
and social behavior components of this class group. Frequently, there is little 
convergence among the groups defined in class, political, or social terms. 

41. The link between styles of life and their interpretation is not perfect, 
for as Lockwood has pointed out with regard to affluent manual employees tvhom 
he terms the “new working class,” to display the life styles of those "above” and 
to be accepted by those "above” are two quite different things. David Locktvood, 
"The New Working Class," European Journal of Sociology, I, No. a (i960) . 

42. Other strata are also likely to be viewed as heterogeneous groupings. Cf. 
S. M. Miller, "The American Lower Class; A Typological Approach,” Social 
Research (Spring 1964) ; Harold Wilensky, "Mass Society and Mass Culture," in 
Bernard Berenson and Morris Janowitz, eds.. Reader in Public Opinion and 
Communication (New York; The Free Press of Glencoe, 1966) . 

43. Miller and Riessman, Social Class and Social Policy, op. cit. 

44. Follotving his study of relative deprivation in England, Runciman con- 
cluded that for each stratification dimension, “the only generalization tvhich can 
be confidently advanced is that the relationship between inequality and grievance 
only intermittently corresponds with either the extent or the degree of actual 
inequality.” W. G. Runciman, Relative Deprivation and Social Justice (Berkeley: 
University of California Press, 1966) . 

45. Since the aged have different needs and consumption patterns than 
younger persons, it may make more sense to think in terms of stratification within 
the aged. Incidentally, there is a greater concentration of income among the 
top 20 per cent of the aged than among any other age group. 

46. See Martin Rein and S. M. Miller, “Poverty, Policj', and Purpose: The 
Dilemmas of Choice," in Leonard H. Coodman, ed.. Economic Progress and 
Social Welfare (New York: Columbia University Press, 1966) . 

Chapter 4 

^ Inheritmee of Foverty or Inheritance 
of Race? ot is dudley dun can 

A recurring tiicme in tiic discussions of poverty during the 1960s has 
been the "cycle of poverty,” the "vicious circle of poverty,” the "per- 
sistence of poverty," the "Icgac}' of poverty,” or tlie "inheritance of 
poverty." There is little to choose between the ofiicial and the unolTi- 
cial versions of the theme. Harrington wrote: ^ 

. . . the cxpl.ination of why the poor are where they are is that they 
made the mistake of being born to die wrong parents, in the WTong section 
of tlie country, in the wrong industry, or in the wrong racial or ethnic 
group. Once that mistake has been made, they could base been paragons 
of srill and morality, but most of them would neser even base had a 
diance to get out of tlie other .America. 

There are two important svap of saying this: The poor are caught in a 
vidous drcic; or. The poor live in a culture of poverty. 

The echo came back from the Council of Economic Advisers: * 

Poverty breeds poserty. A poor individual or family has a high probability 
of staying poor. Low incomes carry svith them high risks of illness; limita- 
tions on mobility: limited access to education, information, and training. 
Poor parents cannot gi\c their children the opportutiitics for better health 
atid education needed to improsc their lot. Lack of tnotisation. hope, and 
incentive is a more subtle but not less powerful barrier than lack of 
finatidal means. Thus the cruel legacy of poverty is passed from parents to 

This is a repon frotn rioject No. 5-0074 (EO-ipiV •‘Sodoccoacmic Background 
and Ocnijvitiona! .\chicvcr.icm," supported bv Contract No. OE-5 -83-072 v^ith the 
I'N. OITiCo of Ediir.’tion. 

86 Inheritance of Poverty or Inheritance of Race7 

Mr. Shriver’s presentation to the Congress, as it debated the Eco- 
nomic Opportunity Act of 1964, reiterated: ® 

Being poor ... is a rigid way of life. It is handed down from generation 
to generation in a cycle of inadequate education, inadequate homes, in- 
adequate jobs, and stunted ambitions. It is a peculiar axiom of poverty that 
the poor are poor because they earn little, and they also earn little because 
they are poor. 

The President’s message on the War on Poverty accordingly 
offered help to 

young Americans who lack skills, who have not completed their education 
or who cannot complete it because they are too poor. The years of high 
school and college age are the most critical stage of a young person’s life. 
If they are not helped then, many will be condemned to a life of poverty 
which they, in turn, will pass on to their children.^ 

The theme has proved to be durable. The rpdy Economic Report 
(p. 170) refers to the “bonds that tie today’s children to the poverty 
of their parents,” the ip66 Report (p. g6) to "the q’cle of poverty 
and dependency,’’ and the ip6y Report (p. 142) to “the poverty cycle 
in which blighted environment denies poor children the skills and 
the attitudes they need to break out of poverty as adults.’’ Among 
other administration spokesmen. Secretary McNamara has repeated 
the thesis: “Poverty begets poverty. It passes from generation to gen- 
eration in a cruel cycle of near inevitability.’’ ® Examples of similar 
usages could be multiplied almost at will. 

I have not found many attempts to test or even to call into 
question the assumptions of the “inheritance-of-poverty” thesis. The 
authors of Income and Welfare — one of those works that are more 
widely cited than read — did devote some pages to the "transmission 
of poverty between generations” and the “transmission of poverty to 
children.” Their analysis is rather cursory, but still cogent enough to 
have justified more attention to their conclusion: "Though no sweep- 
ing generalizations can be made on the basis of these few tables, they 
offer little support for a theory of poverty that rests entirely on inter- 
generational transmission.”® Evidently, one of the co-authors soon 
forgot this conclusion; without protecting himself from the logical 
hazards encountered in deductions from correlations, he wrote in 
1964 : 7 

The evidence points to the conclusion that poverty breeds poverty. Educa- 
tion and occupational status are correlated with economic status. The 

8 ^ Otis Dudley Duncan 

University of Michigan study showed that low educational attainment tends 
to perpetuate itself between generations. 

One other economist has confronted the cycle thesis head on. His 
calculations, based on the 1962 data on occupational mobility from 
the study of Occupational Changes in a Generation,® led Gallaway 
to reject 

the idea that the economic status of parents is a major determinant of the 
economic success of offspring. . . . Data such as these certainly weaken the 
case for tliose who argue that there is a “vicious cycle of poverty.” Apparently 
the inheritability of poverty is not nearly so great as is implied by some.® 

This chapter is in the spirit of the suggestion that “government 
intervention in social piocesses . . . requires enthusiasm, but also 
intellect.” The notion that "people are poor because they are 
poor” has proved its worth in generating enthusiasm for a war on 
poverty. I am concerned, rather, with the possibility that harm may 
be done when we “do not insist on clarity and candor in the defini- 
tion of objectives,” when we settle for a slogan instead of requiring 
analysis, when, in terms of Walter Miller’s analysis (see page 260) , 
we encumber ourselves with the ideological baggage of “code 
words,” as when “the poor” serves as a euphemism for "Negroes.” 

Although a number of texts, both among those cited earlier and 
many not cited, could serve equally well, let me take Harrington’s 
paragraph whole as a point of departure: 

Then, poverty is a culture in the sense that the mechanism of impoverish- 
ment is fundamentally the same in every part of the system. The vicious 
circle is a basic pattern. It takes different forms for the unskilled workers, 
for the aged, for the Negroes, for the agricultural workers, but in each case 
the principle is the same. There are people in the affluent society who are 
poor because they are poor; and who stay poor because they are poor.12 

I shall argue, in particular, that Negroes (that is, disproportionate 
numbers of them) are poor mainly because they are “Negroes” and 
are defined and treated as such by our society and that their poverty 
stems largely not from the legacy of poverty but from the legacy of 
race. I don’t believe that Harrington meant to deny this, but I do 
believe that political as well as intellectual mischief is done when a 
congeries of imprecise ideas is gummed together with an ideological 
slogan serving as cement. 

88 Inheritance of Poverty or Inheritance of Race? 


If there were any chance tliai the slogan makers and the policy 
builders would lieed the implications of social research, the first les- 
son for them to learn would be that poverty is not a trait but a 
condition. In a work otiicmise more distinguished for its rhetoric 
than for its contribution to knowledge, Alvin Schorr offered one 
insight that should become a beacon to guide our interpretations of 
the causes giving rise to the condition: We must ‘‘visualiz[e] poor 
families in the stream of life rather than as fractions of a population 
or at a given point in time.” i-'' Noting tlie imperfecuons in our 
present images of the flo^ving stream, he truly stated, "Research that 
will provide a sharper, truer image is badly needed." Unfortu- 
nately, his own account of the "stages through wlticli a family passes 
to the development of family income” is badly distorted by errors 
both factual and conceptual. For c.\ample, "It is a platitude of occu- 
pational research that the father's occupation detennines the son's,"” 
or "The first job is an c.xcellcnt indication of what the last job will 
be,” or “At the close of Stage 2 (say, between twenty-five and 
thirty) , tliosc families u'ho will be poor arc readily recognized" ” — 
all statements that arc at best equivocally true” and fraught with 
the hazards of all partial truths. 

Schorr’s basic error — one, if I am not mistaken, tliat he recapitu- 
lates from studies in tlie culture of poverty, although he dismisses the 
latter as a "mystique” — is a commonplace fallacy in historical inter- 
pretations: What came to pass happened inevitably. "The choices 
made by people who arc going to be poor may seem haphazard, but 
their combined effect is as accidental as the path of a trolley car." ” 
But if the "choices” did include any quantum of the "haphazard," 
that is, if they tvere not fully predictable from knowledge of antece- 
dent circumstances and choices — and Schorr himself concedes a role 
for “pure luck" — then their sequence is to that extent not fixed like 
the tracks traveled by a trolley car; rather, it bears some resemblance 
to Brownian motion. 

The crucial questions for a life-cycle view of the genesis of pov- 
erty (or of any other position on a scale of income or level of living) 
are, therefore: ( 1 ) What factors, conditions, circumstances, and 
choices observable at one stage of the life cycle are determinative or 

89 Otis Dudley Duncan 

prognostic of outcomes to be observed at later stages? (2) How pre- 
dictable are the conditions at later stages from the information avail- 
able at the earlier ones? (These are questions, obviously, that have to 
do with who becomes rich or poor, not with what determines the 
aggregate income in a society.) 

The modern approach to these questions is not seeking absolute 
and final answers, rather it seeks models that order the available 
information as well as it can be ordered in the present state of 
knowledge. The presumption is that improvements in knowledge 
will result in modifications and complications of the models. Pending 
such improvements, questions may be put to the models with some 
confidence that the answers forthcoming will be somewhat more 
sophisticated than those vouchsafed by the analyst who is merely 
“well informed” but not disciplined by the methodological require- 
ments of model construction. 

I have previously suggested a conceptual paradigm for models of 
the socio-economic life cycle,^* and in a collaborative study,^! it was 
possible to develop in some detail the estimates needed for an actual 
“first-generation” model. The work to be summarized here builds on 
these prior contributions and offers, in effect, a “second-generation” 
model. From the foregoing remarks, the reader may perhaps be will- 
ing to grant that I am as alive to the defects of this work as any 
casual critic is likely to be. (The constructive critic will be one who 
lays down guidelines for the “third-generation” model.) Whatever 
these defects, I submit that the conscious strategy of model construc- 
tion puts us on the way toward the “sharper, truer image" that 
Schorr demands. 

Let Figure 4-1 be taken as a diagrammatic representation of the 
present model of the socio-economic life cycle. With respect to this 
model (though not necessarily with respect to other models one 
might entertain) , two measures on a respondent’s family of orienta- 
tion are taken to be “predetermined variables” — that is, the model 
says nothing about how values of these variables are themselves de- 
termined. These two measures of “family background” (which term 
may serve as a convenient label) are the educational attainment and 
the occupational status of the head (normally the respondent’s 
father) of the family of orientation. It is supposed that the size of the 
family of orientation, measured by the number of siblings of the 
respondent, depends on the two predetermined variables as well as 
on other factors that are not specified in the model and that are 
taken to be uncorrelated with the predetermined variables. Fiurther, 

90 Inheritance of Poverty or Inheritance of Race? 

it is suggested that the respondent’s educational attainment depends 
on how many siblings he has as well as on the two measures of familv 
background and unspecified residual factors. The acliieved occupa- 
tional status of tlie respondent, as of the time information on him is 
collected, is taken to depend on prior educational attainment, on 
number of siblings, on family background, and on unspecified resid- 
ual factors. Finally, the current money income of the respondent is 
represented as a function of his occupational status, his educational 
attainment, the number of siblings he has, and tlie t^vo measures of 
family background, as well as unspecified residual factors. The "re- 
sidual factors,” in each case, are the closest approximation tve have to 


White \p.86 

Figure 4-1. Path diagrams representing a model of the socio-economic 
life cycle in the Negro and white populations, svith path coefficients Cli- 
mated for native men 25 to 64 years old ivith nonfarm background and in 
the experienced civilian labor force; March 1962. 

souRcm: Computed from data summarized in Table 4-2: path is omitted when 
coefficient is less than its estimated standard error in absolute value. 

91 Otis Dudley Duncan 

an operational counterpart to Schorr's pure luck. To the extent that 
future research renders some of the presently “unspecified residual 
factors” specified, the apparent role of pure luck will diminish with 
the incorporation of additional specific factors into new models. How 
much the residual can be made to shrink in this fashion can only be 
conjectured; all experience with comparable problems suggests that 
models in the foreseeable future will continue to require substan- 
tially weighted terms for pure luck. 

The model as described thus considers four successive outcomes 
for a cohort of respondents; the number of children in the families in 
which they grow up, their schooling, their occupational achievement, 
and their income levels. Each such outcome is assumed to depend, to 
a greater or lesser degree (the degree of dependence is to be esti- 
mated from the data) , both on all the antecedent outcomes and on 
the predetermined variables. The model, therefore, consists of four 
equations, one for each dependent variable or outcome, and the 
equations take on what the model builders call a “simple recursive” 
form. In the diagrammatic representation, a straight line with an 
arrowhead at one end represents what is conveyed by the words “de- 
pends on” or, more explicitly, "depends directly on.” That is, the 
variable at the head of the arrow depends directly on the variable at 
the tail. The degree of dependence is represented in the diagram by a 
path coefficient or, alternatively, in the tabular presentation in Table 
4-1, by a regression coefficient. 

Path coefficients are standardized so that there is some meaning 
in the comparison between different variables. Thus, for example, in 
the white population, income depends on occupation more heavily 
than it depends (directly) on education since the respective path 
coefficients are .31 and .09. To ascertain, concretely, the nature of the 
dependence, the regression coefficients in Table 4-1 are relevant: 
$71 of income for each point on the occupational scale and $399 for 
each point on the educational scale. Since occupation and education 
are measured on different scales, of necessity, there is no particular 
meaning in the fact that the latter is the larger coefficient. In using 
path coefficients, each variable is measured on a scale whose unit is 
the standard deviation of that variable in the population under 
study. Hence, we may conclude: For each difference of one standard 
deviation on the occupational scale, there is (on the average) a 
difference of 0.31 standard deviation on the income scale; and one 
standard deviation difference in education produces .09 standard 
deviation difference in income. In discussing how prior outcomes and 

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93 Otis Dudley Duncan 

predetermined variables combine to produce their effects and in 
assessing "how much difference" the respective causal factors make in 
die outcome, the path coefficients are more convenient. In translating 
the effects into statements in terms of the "coin of the realm,” the 
concrete regressions must be examined. 

One more word of e.xplanation: In the path diagram, the curved 
line with arrowheads at both ends does not represent dependence or 
causal relationship, but simply the fact that the predetermined vari- 
ables are correlated for ivhatever reasons. The sources of this correla- 
tion are not analyzed by this particular model, although they might 
well be made explicit in some other model. 


Estimates of the path and regression coefficients for this model can be 
made separately for Negro and white (actually, all non-Negro) men 
as of 1962 on the basis of data collected for the study of Occupational 
Changes in a Generation (OCG) .22 The data used here are restricted 
to nati\'e men tiventy-five to sixty-four years old -with nonfarm back- 
ground (excluding men whose fathers held farm occupations) . The 
calculation of the estimates proceeds from the matrix of correlations 
for all pairs of variables in the model, supplemented by the means 
and standard deviations of these variables. This information is sum- 
marized in Table 4-2, to which passing reference will be made in 
interpreting the coefficients of the model. 

A first result is that certain factors initially conceived to be causes 
of outcomes later in the life cycle are not sufficiently important em- 
pirically to need representation in the path diagram as direct influ- 
ences. Thus, in the white population, occupation, education, and 
family head’s occupation have statistically significant direct paths to 
income, while number of siblings and head’s education do not. What 
is brought out by a path model (though it is not revealed in a 
conventional regression design) , however, is that factors not directly 
influential may nevertheless have indirect influences on the depend- 
ent variable. Estimation of the indirect (or "compound”) paths is 
accomplished by applications of the theorems of path analysis,22 
which will not be expounded here. The basic idea, however, is that 
of multiplication of the coefficients attached to connecting paths. For 
example, head’s education influences respondent’s income via re- 
spondent’s education to the extent of (.20) (.09) = .018; via respond- 

Table 4-2. Inte 

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e^ »0 

CO W w 

^ ^5 ^ 

O • r*^ Cl 

'T r CO w 

• -^ C5 - !>. 

^ ^ Cl 00 cp 

O ^ ^ 

22 o « 
-S •*";a 

S .° Co 

.2 ^ o 

■“ "r: rt 

rt CL rt o 

u "5 n c 

3 g to ij 3 

•a y.S-B b 

o o J S o 

:2 w w 
03 03 *« 2-* 1j 
cJ ci '*•' C C 

C O O <L) «y 
^ ^ u ^ ^ 

>N >s c c 

nr 3: •£ o o 

E E I g-g- 

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2: k: Pi 

c d S 

.2 •" c 

rt *5 c 

•g -d « 
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3 O to 

= w O 

5 s « 

p-* « t» 

u S s 

O fc- •?- 

= > »5 


cfl • 4“ 

lom/c status, 

95 Otis Dudley Duncan 

cut's occupation, (.02) (.51) = .006; respondent’s education and 
occupation, (.20) (.53) (.31) = .033: and saa number of siblings and 
respondent’s occupation, (—.21) (—.04) (.31) = .003. The sum of 
these compound paths is .06. Reference to Table 4-2 indicates tliat 
the gross correlation of head’s education and respondent’s income 
amotmts to .17. The difference, .17 — .06 = .11, is accounted for by 
the fact that head’s education and head’s occupation jointly influ- 
ence respondent’s income, but their respective contributions to this 
joint influence cannot be statistically separated. 

The point of this aritlunetical example is simply to indicate that 
influences of remote causes are largely indirect, but no less real on 
that account A model of the t\pe used here gives us a cliance of 
quantihing the indirect influences of family background, tvliile tins 
cannot be accomplished tnth the usual t)pe of cross-sectional suivey 
and census data in tvhich measurements of background factors are 
not available. 

The second result to emphasize is that the estimated parameters 
of the model are rather different in the Negro and tvliite populations. 
One reason for this is sampling variation: the Negro sample, secured 
as part of a national cross-section, is less than one-tentli as large as the 
tvhite, so that rather small coefiBcients tliat trould be statistically sig- 
nificant for tvhites are not so for Negroes. The more important rea- 
son, however, is that practically all the statistical relationships among 
the variables in this model are substantially weaker for Negroes tlian 
for whites. A glance at the nvo halves of Table 4-2 tvill reveal that 
this is true of the gross correlations as well as most of tlie (net) path 
coefficients in Figure 4—1 and the pardal regression coefficients in 
Table 4-1. (In statistical parlance, all the variables in tire model 
"interact” trith race.) 

One ts-ay of stating tlus finding may seem paradoxical: If, for 
example, the father’s occupadon rvas one of lotv status, this is less of a 
handicap for a Negro than for a -white because die fadier’s occupa- 
don makes less difference in, say, die respondent’s income for Negroes 
than for ivhites. Can this be so when everj-one "knoivs” that Negroes 
are handicapped by the loiv sodo-economic levels of dieir families of 
origin? So they are; but the proposidon applies to Negroes in the 
aggregate. I\'hat the correladons and regressions tell us is diat the 
(reladvely few) Negroes ivho do have favorable sodal origins cannot, 
as readily as ichites, convert diis advantage into occupational achieve- 
ment and monetar)’ returns thereto in the course of their oira careers. 
The Negro family, in odier irords, is relatively less able dian the 

96 Inheritance of Poverty or Inheritance of Race? 

ivhite to pass on to tlie next generation any advantage that may 
accrue to substantial status achievement in tlie present generation. In 
one sense, stratification T.vithin the Negro population is less severe 
than in tlie tvhite; the relatively "equalitarian" Negro structme is one 
that consists in a more or less equal sharing of lotv status and low 
levels of living. Those tvho have worried about 'whetlier American so- 
cial structure is becoming too “rigid” may ivell ponder the question 
whether a little more “rigidity” — ^in tlie sense of a better developed 
intergenerational status transmission belt — might actually be to the 
advantage of the Negro population in the aggregate. 

The nearest approximation to an exception to the above finding 
is tliat tlie intergenerational correlation of respondent’s education 
with family head’s education is very nearly as large in the Negro 
population as in the ivhite. Negro families ivith better than average 
educational levels do, in general, succeed in “passing along” a com- 
parable level of educational attainment to their children. But, again, 
the latter are less able than are ivhite children to convert sucli attain- 
ment into occupational achievement and commensurate monetarj’ 
returns to education. 

The Negro handicap, therefore, as suggested elseidiere,*^ is a 
double handicap: First, the Negro begins die life cycle (typically) 
with characteristics that tvould be a disadvantage to anj'one, tvhite or 
Negro — specifically, in the present model, low levels of parental socio- 
economic status. Second, achievements at subsequent stages of the life 
cycle, already louvered by the initial handicap, are further reduced 
tvhen favorable circumstances (to the extent that they exist) cannot 
be capitalized on as readily. 

One especially poignant illustration will perhaps suffice to give 
this situation the emphasis it desenms. Comparing the top and bot- 
tom diagrams in Figure 4-1, tve see that the path coefficient from 
respondent’s education to income is actually higher for Negroes than 
for whites: .21 versus .09. But the compound path, education-=>occupa- 
tion-»income, ^vorks out as (.38) (.17) = .06 for Negroes but (.53) 
(.31) = .16 for whites. In addition, the common causes of education 
and income, lying back of these two variables in the model, work 
more poirerfully for ■whites than for Negroes, so tliat in sum the gross 
correlation between education and income is about the same in the 
two populations. In terms of the magnitudes of the path coefficients, 
Negroes convert education into income, holding constant occupatton, 
at a higher rate tlian whites; but wdiites have previously had better 
fortune in converting education into occupational status and occupa- 

91 Otis Dudley Duncan 

tional status into income. A lesson can be learned from all this, 
recalling that poverty programs, the civil rights movement, and the 
public relations arms of the Office of Education and Department of 
Labor have been saturating the media with messages to Negroes urg- 
ing them to stay in school — “learn, baby, learn.” What such agencies 
have failed to explain to Negroes is how to realize the “returns to 
education” that our students of “human capital” are so fond of es- 


There is more to be learned from inspection of estimates of the kind 
discussed thus far, but to extract all their significant implications and 
present them verbally would be more than a little tedious. Hence, I 
have resolved not to dwell on the model per se any longer and, 
rather, to carry out one further statistical exercise whose results may 
be a little more accessible to the reader, whose fascination with coeffi- 
cients may be somewhat less than my own. The purpose of the exer^ 
cise is to represent in a rather arbitrary, but nonetheless meaningful, 
way the mechanisms by which the disadvantages of Negroes as mea- 
sured at any one stage of the model life cycle are propagated and 
cumulated over subsequent stages. The arithmetic is carried out in 
such a fashion that both direct and indirect influences are taken into 

Suppose that by any form of intervention whatever we could 
eliminate the Negro’s handicap with respect to socio-economic level 
of the family of orientation (as represented in the model by head’s 
education and occupation) , but that disadvantages with respect to 
number of siblings, educational attainment, occupational achieve- 
ment, and income returns, insofar as they are not attributable di- 
rectly or indirectly to Negro-white differentials in family back- 
ground, remain in effect. How much would such intervention accom- 
plish? By how much would it reduce the gap? One meaningful 
answer is provided by row {A) of Table 4-3. This table shows that 
the gap amounts to 1.01 in number of siblings; eliminating the dis- 
advantage of family background would reduce it to .47, or by .54. 
The gap in educational attainment is 2.3 years of school completed; 
eliminating background effects reduces it by i.o, or by less than half. 
The gap in occupational achievement is 23.8 points on the occupa- 
tional status scale used in this research; eliminating that part of it 

100 Inheritance of Poverty or Inheritance of Race! 

economic level do not have access to employment of equal occupa- 
tional status. This disadvantage — or form of discrimination, if you 
will — carries over into dollar amounts of income to die extent of 
I830, rather more than one-fifth of the total dollar gap. 

Finally, although ive have attributed §830 of the Negro-white 
income difference to occupational discrimination, §520 to educational 
discrimination, ^70 to net handicaps due to number of siblings, and 
§940 to differences in socio-economic origins, there remains the sum 
of 11,430 not yet accounted for. This is about three-eighths of the 
total gap of 13,790. Unless and until we can find other explanations 
for it, this must stand as an estimate of income discrimination (or of 
the increase in Negro income that would result from an elimination 
of such discrimination) . Specifically, it is the difference betireen 
Negro and white incomes that cannot be attributed to differential 
occupational levels, differential educational attainment (for reasons 
given below, I do not accept the notion that allowance for “quality 
of education” would drastically revise the estimate), differences in 
size of family of origin, or differences in the socio-economic status 

Handicaps have effects in producing Negro-white differences at 
each stage of the life cycle. Handicaps at one stage are transmitted to 
subsequent stages and reflected in differences there as irell. In addi- 
tion, at each stage, there are further substantial gaps not explained 
by the cumulation of prior handicaps but specific to the way the 
structure works at the stage itself. Thus do the model and hypotheti- 
cal calculations derived from it reveal the full measure of conse- 
quences flowing from the "inheritance of race." They are far more 
drastic than those stemming merely from inheritance of poverty in 
any legitimate sense of the term. Yet, the estimates of these conse- 
quences given here are, if anything, too low. This will be apparent 
from the explanation, now to be given, of their derivation. 

The exercise whose results have just been revietved takes as a 
magnitude to be explained the “gap” between Negro and white 
averages on each of the variables represented as outcomes in the 
model of the socio-economic cycle. No doubt the nature and order of 
magnitude of such gaps are familiar, for information about them is 
■widely available and commonly cited in assessments of the status and 
progress of the Negro minority in American society. What is accom- 
plished by arithmetical calculations derived from the model is to 
break dowm each gap into the components that may be identified 
with the operation of each successive factor in the model. Opera- 

101 Otis Dudley Duncan 

tionally, die procedure is as follows, taking the income gap as an 
illustration. First, for the white populadon, compute the regression 
of income on family head’s education and occupadon (the fwo prede- 
termined variables) only. Having computed the regression coeffi- 
cients, substitute the Negro means on the independent variables into 
the regression equation for whites. Tliis yields a calculated value of 
$6,130, shown as the second figure in the income column of Table 
4-3. In efi^ect, the question answered by this calculation is this: 
Suppose a selected group of wliite men had family background scores 
equal to the average scores for all Negroes, what would be our best 
estimate of their income? The calculation assumes that the remain- 
ing variables in die model operate in the fashion obsen'ed for 

The second calculation utilizes the white regression of income 
on the two family background measures and number of siblings; 
Negro means on diese tliree variables are substituted into the white 
regression equation to produce the estimate of S6,o6o shown as the 
third figure in the income column. The third calculation takes the 
white regression of income on family background, number of sib- 
lings, and years of school completed as the estimating equation, sub- 
sdtuting die four Negro means into the equation to derive the esti- 
mate of $5,540 shown as the fourth entr)’ in the income column. 
Finally, income of ivhites is regressed on family background scores, 
number of siblings, years of school completed, and 1962 occupation 
score. The coefficients dius obtained, when combined with the Negro 
means on all these variables, imply an estimate of $4,710 as shorni in 
the fifth row of the income column. The final entr)' in that column is 
$3,280, the mean Negro income actually observed. The differences 
between these successive esdmates have previously been discussed as 
components of die Negro-white income gap or as hypothetical conse- 
quences of eliminating specified forms of handicap. 

Alternative estimates of these components could have been ob- 
tained, for example, by substituting irhite means into regressions 
computed for Negroes. These would have been, in general, different 
from the estimates shoivn here, reflecting a different interpretation of 
the notion of successively eliminadng handicaps. The present calcu- 
ladon actually assumes that these handicaps are eliminated in two 
senses: First, Negro and white means on independent variables are 
equalized; second, the effects of the variables treated as independent 
are taken to be the same — contrarj' to the obseivadon made earlier 
that Negroes actually are not as successful as ivhites in converting 

102 Inheritance of Poverty or Inheritance of Race? 

status or achievement at one stage into returns at the next. It follows 
therefore, that the hypothetical calculations are to be taken to repre- 
sent ^vhat would happen only if the Negro -jvere allowed to play the 
same game as whites in addition to receiving a “handicap score” 
bonus to compensate for the effects of impediments to achies’ement in 
past generations. The estimates exhibited here are based on the hy- 
pothesis that both types of handicap are eliminated. 

The model can tell us little or nothing about how this is to be 
done, and I believe the only honest answer one could give to the 
question of how to intervene is this: We must make the best guess ire 
can, proceed accordingly, and try to estimate what difference it 
makes. The model does say something about what the possible re- 
turns to intervention might be, if accomplished in the fashion 
assumed, and thus affords some guidance as to where interv'ention 
may be most desperately needed. Thus, I suggest that for all their 
merit on various other grounds, family planning programs, per se, do 
not stand much chance of reducing socio-economic gaps benreen 
Negro and white. (Of course, it may always be urged that there are 
“spin-off” and “side” effects of such programs not taken into ac- 
count in the model; obviously, the model cannot be used to 
disprove such a contention, but it would be illuminating to see a 
model that incorporated actual estimates of such effects. My calcula- 
tion does not address the question of how many fewer Negroes would 
be "in poverty” if some of them had not been born, but that of what 
the impact of family size is on those who are born.) 

One other kind of conclusion from this exercise has important 
implications. We have seen that the effect of family background per 
se, svhile substantial, is not large enough to explain the greater part 
of the Negro-white gap in income, occupational status, or educa- 
tional attainment. Inheritance of poverty is of lesser consequence in 
the whole picture of such gaps than the aggregate of all the forms of 
discrimination depicted by the model — ^bearing in mind that the 
model allows fully for the indirect as well as the direct effects of 
differentials in family background. But if there were remedies for all 
these forms of discrimination, so that only the handicap of family 
background remained, that handicap would be materially dimin- 
ished in the next generation. It would be further attenuated in suc- 
cessive generations under these ideal conditions, and Avhile some per- 
sisting differential in achievement due solely to initial background 
handicaps would be observed for several decades, it would tend to 
disappear of its own accord. (There is much misunderstanding of 

103 Otis Dudley Duncan 

th/s point on die part of analysts who have not studied Markov 
chains, and it would take too long a digression to explain how they 
are misled. The deduction stated here is, nonetheless, correct on the 
assumptions that have been stated.) =5 jn other words, if we could 
eliminate the inheritance of race, in the sense of the exposure to 
discrimination experienced by Negroes, the inheritance of poverty in 
this group would take care of itself. This conclusion is "optimistic” 
only if one is optimistic enough to believe that we will shortly learn 
how to eliminate discrimination! 


Specialists in model construction will easily bring to mind various 
ways in tvhich the present model might be altered so as to develop 
more interesting estimates or more cogent inferences. Analysts not so 
engrossed in the technicalities of model construction are likely to fix 
on one particular type of defect as apparently most in need of rectifi- 
cation: the omission of crucial variables. Since the list of candidate 
variables is unlimited, constructive suggestions cannot all be antic- 
ipated. Certain classes of variables, however, can be discussed in a 
general way in advance of the potential criticism. 

It can reasonably be objected that the measurements on family 
background do not suffice to represent all the factors that may be 
implicated in the inheritance of poverty or in assaying the specific 
handicaps of Negroes. Actually, some considerable amount of work 
has been done with the earlier version of the present model to evalu- 
ate the relevance of selected additional variables and to conjecture 
the impact of including still others.^® In one particular exercise, for 
example, the roster of family-background measures was enlarged to 
include the classification of families as intact or broken.-^ The esti- 
mates indicated that this factor was not a major source of variance in 
educational attainment (which was the only dependent variable 
there considered) and that estimates for the remaining measures were 
not greatly affected when this one was included. A general point is 
that inclusion of additional measures of family socio-economic status 
would not be expected to increase greatly the estimated impact of 
family background on status achievement, even though it clearly 
would be desirable to have at one’s disposal a good measure of family 
income or level of living. Such a measure is not now available in a 
form suited to inclusion in an extended version of the present model. 

104 Inheritance of Poverty or Inheritance of Race! 

There is every reason to believe, however, that the tivo sodo- 
economic measures noiv included effectively represent most of th** 
variance that could be attributed to such additional measures of 
family socio-economic levels, in view of tlae moderately high intercor- 
relation of such variables. Hence, it is not likely that the present 
version of the model substantially underestimates the impact of 
family background or substantially understates the degree of inherit- 
ance of poverty. 

The discussion of race differentials in educational attainment 
and tlie consequences thereof for occupational adiievement and in- 
come has been plagued by the assumption that years of schooling is 
an especially fallible measvu-e of actual educational attainment for 
racial comparisons because of gross differences in so-called quality of 
schooling. On this assumption, improvement in a model of sodo- 
economic achievement tvould be effected by substituting for years of 
schooling some index of attainment incorporating a correction for 
the discrepancy in quality. While the argument is attractive, it is easy 
to exaggerate its force. For one thing, inferior quality at any one 
level of the school system is likely to result in impaired chances of 
proceeding to the next level. Hence, school years completed has 
partly built into it a correlation with quality. Second, the Surs’ey of 
Equality of Educational Opportunity 28 disclosed that a vide variety 
of more or less objective measures of school quality did not varj' by 
race as much as most analysts had hitherto assumed. Third, tliere are 
suggestions that quality of schooling be represented by some index 
derived from standardized achievement tests and that such an index 
be substituted for years of schooling as tlie measure of educadonal 
attainment. It should be recognized that this ■would amount to a 
redefinition of the problem. As the present model stands — and it 
shares this characteristic with a great deal of related research — 
educational attainment really represents the respondent’s investment 
in education, in terms of the number of years spent attending school, 
adjusted to the extent that a year of attendance is counted only if it 
results in completion of a grade. The interest in estimates from a 
model or in otlier analyses of consequences of educational attainment 
is then in the return to this investment, hotvever “return” is mea- 
sured. A pure index of intellectual attainment, on the other hand, 
would be considered as representing tire factor of skill or qualifica- 
tions for employment, insofar as these are academic in character. In 
practice, however, so-called achievement tests do not measure any- 
thing greatly different from what is ascertained by tests of general 

105 Otis Dudley Duncan 

mental ability. The emphasis on quality of schooling, therefore, can 
be read as a proposal to supplement years of schooling with measures 
of mental ability in models seeking to account for variation in socio- 
economic achievement. 

As it happens, further work with the type of model treated above 
has been carried out with the explicit aim of elucidating the role of 
mental ability in the process of status achievement. Properties and 
assumptions of the extended model have been discussed elsewhere 
and will not be recapitulated here. Suffice it to say that estimates are 
available for a model that treats income, occupational status, and 
education as depending on mental test scores as well as on number of 
siblings and the two measures of family background. Unfortunately, 
these estimates pertain to a somewhat different population than that 
under study in the earlier part of this chapter, so that strict compari- 
sons between the two versions of the model are not warranted. The 
presentation here will be confined to a tabulation of the estimates of 
components of Negro-white gaps, calculated in the fashion already 
described, inserting mental ability score into the sequence of vari- 
ables following number of siblings and preceding educational attain- 
ment. The estimates are shown in Table 4-4. The reader is warned 
that these estimates, although they derive from what is taken to be a 
superior model from a conceptual standpoint, are not on quite as 
secure a statistical footing as those presented earlier. A variety of 
somewhat risky assumptions had to be made to secure the estimates, 
and it was necessary to combine information from several different 
sources that were by no means fully comparable. The tedious details 
are presented in the paper describing the model. 

Only one such detail will be stressed at this time. This is the 
matter of estimating the Negro-white gap in mental test scores. Two 
important bodies of evidence from large-scale enterprises in data 
collection are relevant. (1) The previously mentioned Survey of 
Equality of Educational Opportunity provides mean scores by race 
for students in grades 1, 3, 6, 9, and The typical result, stated 
approximately, is that Negro children obtained an average score one 
standard deviation below the mean for white children. (2) National 
data from the Selective Service System have been put into a conve- 
nient form by Kai’pinos.^^ My calculation from his tables shows that 
if the score distributions are transformed to an arbitrary scale with a 
mean of 50 and a standard deviation of lo, white registrants have an 
average score of 51.2 and Negro registrants an average of 40.6. There 
is close agreement between the two sources. In preparing the esti 

Tabi.e 4-4. Differences in Means between White (W) and Negro (N) with Respect to Number of Siblings, Mental Ability Score, 
Educational Attainment, Occupational Status, and Earnings, with Components of Differences Generated by Cumulative 
Effects in a Model of the Socio-Economic Life Cycle, for Men 25—54 Years Old: 

O w 05 M 


wj ^ ~ 

« 2 w 
< s >-l 

W O a, 

hi O 

o u 




107 Otis Dudley Duncan 

mates recorded in Table 4—4, it was arbitrarily assumed that the 
mean scores of white and Negro men differ by exactly one standard 

In a rough and qualitative sense, the estimates in Table 4-4 
tend to support those offered earlier, apart from discrepancies to be 
expected because of differences in the specification of the popula- 
tions. There are, however, some significant alterations in the infer- 
ences to be drawn that center on the consequences of including 
mental ability in the model. Comments will be confined to these. 

In the second column, it can be seen that about one-quarter of 
the gap in mental ability scores is attributed to Negro-ivliite differ- 
ences in family socio-economic level and number of children. The 
remaining three-quarters of the gap (7.6 points on the scale being 
used) must be attributed to other factors, ivhich can perhaps be 
summed up as "differential mental development." The model sheds 
no light on the causes of this differential. It has, of course, been 
subject to much discussion, not to say controversy. A revietv of the 
factors that have been suggested as causes is given by PettigTe^v .32 In 
common ivith most social and behavioral scientists, he contends that 
the explanation must lie in environmental variables, broadly con- 
strued, rather than in genetic differences between the so-called races. 
I share this opinion, not so much because the environmental factors 
adduced in such discussion are entirely plausible, but because the 
correct argument from genetic theory does not lead to the conclusion 
that such genetic differences are probable. Among the best of the 
discussions of the point at issue is that by Eckland,^^ who contributes 
a further illuminating point: While there is good reason to believe 
that part of the social-class variation in measured intelligence has a 
genetic basis, acceptance of this proposition does not require one to 
accept a similar argument with respect to racial variation. 

Hoivever all this may be, the results arrayed in Table 4-4 sug- 
gest that the difference in measured or realized mental ability has 
important consequences. In the third column, we see that inclusion 
of the mental ability variable in the model allows us to come close to 
a complete explanation of the gap in years of school completed. Of 
the total gap of 2.3 years, 1.2 years are accounted for by the com- 
bination of family background and number of siblings; an additional 
0.9 year by mental ability; and only 0.2 year by unspecified causes. 

As a consequence of this result, most of the education compo- 
nent of occupational and income gaps that shotved up in Table 4-3 
appears in Table 4-4 as part of the mental ability component. Net 

108 Inheritance of Poverty or Inheritance of Race? 

of family background and size, mental ability accounts for 5.5 of the 
22.g points gap between Negio and white occupational-status scores, 
but education only 0.9 point. Similarly, §650 of the roughly §3,000 
income gap is attributed to mental ability, but only §70 to educa- 

Although the introduction of mental ability into the model 
allows us almost fully to account for the education gap — in the sense 
of tracing it back to specified causal factors — the same is not true 
witli regard to occupation and earnings. Of the 22.9 points gap in 
occupational-status scores, 8.7 points remain to be explained, or can 
be attributed, if one likes, to occupational "discrimination,” specifi- 
cally. Such discrimination carries over into an income differential of 
§350. But even the combination of occupation, education, mental 
ability, number of siblings, and family background leaves §1,200 to 
§1,400, as nearly as can be guessed, to be accounted for by other 
factors. Note that the “quality-of-schooling" argument has effectively 
been met and ivc arc still unable, conceptually, to close the gap in 
incomes, except by reference to some putative mechanism of income 
discrimination. At least one-third of the income gap arises because 
Negio and ■white men in the same line of work, with the same 
amount of formal schooling, with equal ability, from families of the 
same size and same socio-economic level, simply do not draw the same 
■wages and salaries. This §1,200, analogous to rvhat Paul Siegel has 
called the "cost of being a Negio,” is in no meaningful sense a 
consequence of the inheritance of poverty. 


It is true, of course, that in American society one is well advised to 
"pick his parents” so that he begins life on a favorable socio- 
economic level. But the models e.xhibited here fully support Gal- 
larvay’s conclusion that this strategy' is not nearly so important as 
previous doctrine rvould seemingly have us believe. It is, horvever, of 
vital importance to choose parents of the "right” skin color if one 
wants to avoid a high risk of ending up at a low level on the income 
scale. In general, the supposition that the "poor are poor because 
they are poor” is not only an intellectual obfuscation, but also a 
feeble guide to policy in what is obviously the most desperate and 
refractory sector of the “poverty problem,” that is, the “race prob- 

109 Otis Dudley Duncan 

I have no doubt that the instigators of the War on Poverty 
thought that it could be planned in such a way as to remedy the gross 
discrepancies in achievement and rewards betiveen the races. But this 
just does not happen as a benign fallout from conventional measures 
taken to enhance "opportunity.” Until we summon up the courage to 
distinguish between the problems of poverty and the problems of 
race, we shall have to reckon with the consequences of our lack of 


1. Michael Harrington, The Other America: Poverty in the United States 
(Baltimore: Penguin, 1963) , p. 21. 

2. Economic Report of the President (Washington, D.C.: Government 
Printing Office, 1964) , pp. 69-70. 

3. The War on Poverty, Committee Print, Select Subcommittee on Poverty 
of the Committee on Labor and Public Welfare, United States Senate (IVash- 
ington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1964) , p. 35. 

4. Ibid., p. 2. 

5. News Release, Office of Assistant Secretary of Defense (Public Affairs) , 
Address by Robert S. McNamara, Secretary of Defense, before the Veterans of 
Foreign Wars, New York City, August 23, 1966, p. 3. 

6. James N. Morgan, Martin H. David, Wilbur J. Cohen, and Harvey E. 
Brazer, Income and Welfare in the United States (New York: McGiaw-Hill, 
1962), p. 210. 

7. Wilbur J. Cohen and Eugenia Sullivan, "Poverty in the United States,” 
Health, Education, and Welfare Indicators (February 1964) , p. xiv. 

8. U.S. Bureau of the Census, "Lifetime Occupational Mobility of Adult 
Males, March 1962," Current Population Reports, Series P-23, No. 11 (May 12, 
1964) . 

9. Lowell E. Gallaway, "On the Importance of "Picking One’s Parents,’” 
Quarterly Review of Economics and Business, VI, No. 2 (Summer 19G6) , 7. 

10. Daniel P. Moynihan, "What is ‘Community Action'?,” The Public Interest, 
No. 5 (Fall 1966) , 8. 

11. Ibid. 

12. Harrington, op. cit., p. 157. 

13. Alvin L. Sclioir, Poor Kids (New York: Basic Books, 1966) , p. 46. 

14. Ibid. 

15. Ibid. 

16. Ibid., p. 31. 

17. Ibid., p. 35. 

18. Peter M. Blau and Otis Dudley Duncan, The American Occupational 
Structure (New York: IViley, 1967) ; George Katona et al., Jp 6 i Survey of Con- 
sumer Finances, Monograph No. 24, Survey Research Center (Ann Arbor: Uni- 
versity of Michigan, 1962) , Chapter 5. 

19. Schorr, op. cit., p. 31. 

so. Otis Dudley Duncan, "Discrimination Against Negroes,” Annals of the 
American Academy of Political and Social Science, CCCLXXI (May 1967) , 85-103. 

21. Blau and Duncan, op. cit. 

22. Ibid. 

23. Otis Dudley Duncan, "Path Analysis: Sociological Examples,” American 

Journal of Sociology, LXXII (July 1966) , i-i6. , 

24. Duncan, "Discrimination Against Negroes,” op. cit. 

110 Inheritance of Poverty or Inheritance of Race? 

25. Sec Stanley Licberson and Glenn V. Fuguilt, "Negro-White Occupational 

DilTercnccs in the Absence of Discrimination,'’ American Journal of Sociolopi 
LXXIII (September 19C7), 188-200. ' 

26. Blau and Duncan, of), cii. 

27. Duncan, "Discrimination Against Negroes," op. cit, 

28. James S. Coleman ct al.. Equality of Educational Opportunity (Washing- 
ton, D.C.: Government Printing Oificc, 196G) . 

29. Otis Dudley Duncan, "Ability and Achievement," Eugenics Quarterly, XV 
(hfarch 1968), 1-11. 

30. Coleman, op. cit., pp. 221-251. 

31. Bernard D. Karpinos, "The Mental Qualification of American Youths 
[or Military Scmcc and Its Relationship to Educational Attainment," jp66 Social 
Statistics Section, Proceedings of the American Statistical Association, Table 5. 

32. Tliomas F. Pettigrew, A Profile of the Negro American (Princeton, N.J.: 
Van Nostrand, 19G4) , Ch.aptcr 5. 

33. Bruce K. Eckland, "Genetics and Sociology: A Reconsideration,” American 
.Sociological Review, XXXII (April 19G7) , 173-194. 

34. Paul M. Siegel, "On the Cost of Being a Negro,” Sociological Inquiry, 
XXXV (Winter 19G5) , 41-57, 

Chapter 5 

Deprivatio7i aiid Migration: Dilemmas 
of Causal Interpretation marc fried 


It has often been noted that there is a relationship between depriva- 
tion and, particularly, poverty and migration. Relatively fe\v studies 
have sought to examine or to clarif)’ this relationship, nor has the 
tlieme attracted great interest and attention. Historical studies of the 
vast migrations that peopled the American continent have pointed 
up, in a fairly general ^vay, the great impetus to migration created by 
famine and disaster or, conversely, by available land and economic 
expansion. Many studies have also obsen'ed the unfortunate eco- 
nomic and social position of the newcomer to imban, industrial 
societies. And a fetv economic and demographic studies have at- 
tempted to trace a bit more closely the relationship betA\'een ex- 
pulsive forces in countries of origin and attractive forces in countries 
of destination. Beyond these studies, ^vhich themselves offer a sad 
commentar)' on our meager knowledge and understanding, there are 
only scattered and sparse references to the relationship bettveen dep- 
rivation and migration. 

The problem arises anew in the large migrations of Negroes 
from the South over the past five decades. As a social problem, the 
early migration of rural Negroes, largely trained to do only routine 
agricultural field jobs and -sritli \drtually insuperable impediments to 
retraining as an industrial labor force by ratue of their former con- 

This chapter is based on a report to the Office of Economic Opportunit)’ in partial 
fulfillment of Contract Number 389-4279. 

112 Deprivation and Migration 

dition of servitude, arose even before tlie Emancipation Proclama- 
tion. No sooner Jiad tlie northern armies entered the South than 
hordes of Negi o slaves flocked to the army camps: 

They came at niglit, when the flickering camp-fires shone like vast unsteady 
stars along the black lioriron; old men and thin, with gray and tufted hair- 
women, with frightened eyes, dragging whimpering hungry children; men 
and girls, stalwart and gaunt — a horde of starving vagabonds, homeless, 
helpless, and pitiable, in their dark distress.^ 

As tlie northern armies overran vast territories in the South during 
the Civil War and even more -with the abolition of slavery, a great 
many former slaves became themselves an army of uprooted. How- 
ever, in actual numbers, only relatively few Negroes went North or 
'\\^est to settle in the glowing urban areas. It was not until the begin- 
ning of tJie twentieth century tiiat a generation of Negroes, born free 
and wlio had, therefore, to learn about the futility of either freedom 
or opportunity in the South, began to migrate in increasing numbers, 
first to southern cities and then into the Nortli and Midwest. And it 
ivas not until the twentieth century', "World "War I, and the drastic 
limitation of foreign immigration that large numbers of Negro mi- 
grants from the Soutli began to reach toward the newly developing, 
albeit limited, chances for jobs and for a dream of dignity in urban 

Whether tve concern ourselves ts’ith the European immigration 
of 1830-1920 or with the Negro migration of igoo to the present, we 
must deal with and be guided by fragmentary facts and partial tlieo- 
ries. The psychological and social history of migration is even more 
deeply hidden behind these feiv statistical facts, incomplete records, 
selected observations, and bits of theory. In an effort to put these into 
perspective, we shall examine some of the data on the European 
migration and then turn to a comparative consideration of the Negro 
migration from the South. In noting some of the similarities and 
differences, we may better understand some of the ivays in which 
deprivation functions as both condition and consequence, subjecuve 
and objective, of massive population redistributions. 


Autobiographical reports of the experience of migration usually sub- 
merge the difficulties and tribulations of entering a new society 
within a sense of over-all success and achievement. But the host of 
studies that investigate a broader range of in-migrant populations 

113 Marc Fried 

document the enormous set of problems, pitfalls, and often tragedies 
associated with movement from one society to another.^ The scat- 
tered evidence suggests that these difficulties and problems beset the 
migrant to any urban, industrial society and not merely those who 
came to the United States; and, further, that the process varies rela- 
tively little whether it involves internal migration from rural to 
urban areas or, as in the great European migrations of the nineteenth 
century, emigration from the rural areas of one country to the urban 
areas of another.® 

Immigration, the process of geographical and social transition 
from one society to another, is, at best, a drastic experience of cul- 
tural change. It requires a shift from embeddedness in the familiar to 
a constant confrontation with nesvness and unfamiliarity. More often 
than not, it involves a global experience of being a stranger, an alien 
at the mercy of an inhospitable, incomprehensible, and uncompre- 
liending foreign population. Even under tlie best of circumstances 
when the migrant from one city to anotlicr lias a relatively clear 
anticipation of a job or of friends or of housing conditions, migration 
is a highly disruptive process. Nonetheless, it seems quite clear that 
the degree of change required in cultural orientations and in social 
relationships and patterns is one of the more critical dimensions 
distinguishing the potential ease or difficulty of adjustment to cir- 
cumstances of migration. And almost certainly intercorrelated with 
this and of great relevance is the possibility of anticipating, either 
because of prior experience, prior arrangements, or economic re- 
sources, some of the main situations and roles one will encounter in 
ivork, in social relationships, and in housing and residence. 

Although many lower-status immigrants from rural areas in for- 
eign countries to cities in the United States had some prior contact 
with family or friends who had already migrated, they generally had 
little accurate information, little basis in past experience for antici- 
pating, and few economic or social resources for coping with these 
changes. Similarly, among low-status Negroes in the United States, 
the initial and often many subsequent contacts with the city are 
major transitions for which there can be only minimal preparation. 
Eut in addition to the sense of alienation and estrangement, the lack 
of preparation or anticipation, and the absence of fundamental re- 
sources for coping with a new environment, the reaction of host 
societies is almost invariably one of antagonism based on class, ethnic, 
and cultural differences. 

American nativism and its corollary antiforeignisms waxed and 
svaned over the course of several centuries, but there were many 

114 Deprivation and Migration 

rumblings of discontent about the freedom of opportunity available 
to foreigners quite early in American history. By tlie middle of tlie 
nineteenth century, many Americans became fearful of the ruinous 
effect of newcomers on their society.'^ After the Civil IVar, the great 
territorial and industrial expansion led to a diminution in naiirist 
sentiment .5 The material need for an expanding population tras 
great; the same national groups, predominantly German, English, 
and Irish, continued to be the dominant immigrant forces. By the 
late 1870s and 1880s, however, new patterns of nativism began their 
opposition to the “new immigration” only to reach a peak during 
and immediately following World War I. 

Viewed as a large, historical phenomenon, nativist sentiment 
with its strong source in opposition to foreign competition, foreign 
ideology, and foreign culture may have undergone a slow and vari- 
able progression partly modified by the pervasive sense of the United 
States as both haven and melting pot. Concretely, however, most 
foreign groups that entered the United States in large numbers and 
differed in striking ways from Americans were subjected to extreme 
difficulties. For the English, this was mitigated by the fact that, un- 
like most other immigrants, they came to fill relatively skilled jobs in 
specific industries. Cultural similarities also facilitated a rapid 
transition.® For the Germans and Scandinavians, the movement to- 
ward specific regions, generally of low-population density, permitted 
them to follow a path that had already been prepared and, despite 
low rates of assimilation, to experience little long-term antagonism.’’ 
But whether the extremely low social position, the cultural and reli- 
gious distinctiveness, the competitive economic situation, or some 
larger change in the society as a whole was responsible for the differ- 
ence, during the latter part of the nineteenth century and the early 
part of the twentieth century, the Irish, Italians, Slavs, Jews, and 
others who emigrated to the United States were subjected to brutal 
experiences of isolation, exploitation, and exclusion.® The more re- 
cent experiences of Negroes, Puerto Ricans, and Mexican-Americans 
follow a well-trodden path of discrimination and segregation in the 
urban, industrial areas of the United States. 


Massive migrations most often occur during intolerable conditions of 
economic or social crisis. They are always associated with absolute or 

115 Marc Fried 

relative dissatisfaction with the conditions of life or unth the oppor- 
tunities for adaptation that are available in the countr}’ of origin.® 
The situations of depris’ation, oppression, and famine that formed a 
background for the great migrations of Irish, Jews, Poles, and Ital- 
ians and, indeed, of English and Germans and, more recently, of 
southern Negroes, Puerto Ricans, and Mexicans need hardly be elab- 
orated. Only situations as severe as these can begin to account for 
widespread uprooting by peasants and tenant fanners whose horizons 
were customarily limited by the spatial environment of a small re- 
gion and by the social environment of kin and neighbors. 

But while these are necessary conditions for an explanation, they 
are not sufficient to the task. The social and economic deprivations 
often associated with large migratory movements were severe, but 
they were largely exacerbations of endemic situations rather than 
wholly unfamiliar catastrophes. Indeed, the currents of migration 
from various European countries from the middle of the nineteenth 
century' into the beginning of the twentieth century show relatively 
smooth annual trends of slow increase or slow decrease only occasion- 
ally interrupted by large, temporary' swings (Table 5-r) , A similar 
over-all continuity of migration from individual countries makes it 

Table 5-1. Recorded Number of Immigrants to the United States 
from Selected Countries, /S/O-ipi^ • (In Thousands) 

June so 



England Ireland Swede.n 



Hungary Russia Greece 



























































































SOi*RCx: From llarn* Jerome, Migration cr.d CycUs (Neiv York: National Bureau 
of Economic Research, 1926) Publicaiion No. 9, 

• From reports of the U5. Immigration Commission. Stetijfjccf Rriiezi' of Jnni^ctiert: 
jSso^jpio; and the Annuel Ref^rt of the Comrxiisionrr Gcnorcl of inmigretion, 192^, pp. 
H5-J17, U.S. Bureau of Immigration. Prior to ioo5, persons entering the United States 
vere recorded by country vhcncc ihe> came, thereafter bv country of last permanent res- 

t Less than 500 recorded immigrants. 

116 Deprivation and Migration 

Table 5-1. (continued) 


Ending Ger- Austria- 








































































3 > 



1 10 
































7 > 






5 « 



































J 9 



































J 9 






9 > 





3 » 










3 « 
























4 ‘ 




00 j 






























































J 3 























evident that cycles of prosperity or depression, at home or abroad, 
can only account for relatively small proportions of the total volume 
of migration from any given country. Afore general long-term trends 
and policies that affect a country, a region, or a population group 
over many decades are necessarily implicated in these patterns that 

117 Marc Fried 

characterize the emigration from a country and distinguish it from 
other countries. 

Ordinarily, people are reluctant to move and most reluctant to 
leave one society, culture, or area for another. This is ever so much 
more the case among pre-industrial people who are bound to long 
traditions and surrounded by kin and kind. Scattered reports from 
all over the world indicate that this holds even when the move in- 
volves departure from inadequate housing to new developments with 
many more conveniences only a short distance away in the same 
country. The data from bombed-out cities in World War II, from the 
reluctant departure of German Jews and Germans who were poten- 
tial targets of Nazi aggression, and from the reaction of residents of 
planned relocation in this country and abroad further document the 
intense and widespread resistance to leaving home.'® Even the vast 
migrations from Europe in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries 
appear often to have been conceived, initially, as temporary or sea- 
sonal migrations, and with a few notable exceptions, return emigra- 
tion was extremely high." Indeed, these vast migrations seem greater 
by far when the diverse streams of migration are totaled and consid- 
ered as a contribution to the labor force of the United States than 
they do when seen as a proportion of the population from the coun- 
try of origin. Taken as a proportion of population in the country of 
origin, the largest migration of all, that from Ireland during and 
immediately following the Great Famine, never rose above 3 per cent 
during any one year and only rarely reached this level.'^ And no 
other migration movement ever approached the proportions of the 
Irish migration during these years. 

Thus, whatever the long-run effects of large-scale migration on 
the population in the country of origin, and no matter how severe 
the expulsive forces or how seductive the attractive forces, only an 
extremely small minority of the population in any country is willing 
or able to leave during any period of time. Any effort to explain 
large-scale migration must keep this in perspective. On the other 
hand, even such relatively minor rates of departure, extended over 
time and selected from particular regions and particular occupa- 
tional and class groups, can have a considerable impact on the resid- 
ual population. This is of great significance in view of population 
pressure as a determinant of migration. Brinley Thomas presents 
evidence that the single most consistent factor behind the major 
upswings of European migration during the nineteenth century was 

118 Deprivation and Migration 

the cyclical increase in birth rates.^^ appears to have been aa 
important factor even in Ireland, which sustained an inaease in 
population from 4,589,000 in 1788 to 8,175,000 in 1841, an increase 
that greatly exacerbated the severity of endemic and epidemic fam- 
ines. The European population explosion led to an increasinjlv 
dangerous subdivision of small holdings that, for tlie peasantry of 
Europe, were initially barely sufficient for families of moderate size. 
Virtually every study of the peasantries of Europe or of emigration 
from European countries attributes primary responsibility for large- 
scale migration to these interrelated factors.i^ A similar set of phe- 
nomena appears important in explaining internal labor migrations 
of Italians and Poles; the large migrations of Puerto Ricans to the 
United States during the period from 1947 to i960; the migration of 
Mexicans to the Southwest; the internal migration of Negroes from 
the South; and the internal migrations from the Appalachian regions 
to the Midwest.^® 

Population pressure and the incapacity of small land-holdings to 
sustain a larger population thus appear to be highly general in ex- 
plaining the powerful expulsive forces that encouraged migration. 
And most of the large migrations consisted mainly of agricultural 
populations or of laborers from rural regions. At the same time, 
technical innovations and developments that make possible expand- 
ing employment may also displace skilled craftsmen rvho become 
potential sources of another stream of international migration. This 
appears to have been the case during the latter part of the nineteenth 
century in England when an increasing proportion of skilled laborers 
migrated from England to the less-developed industries of the United 
States where their knowledge was eagerly sought.^® Moreover, a host 
of changes in agriculture itself has often led to the displacement of 
agricultural labor as in Germany and England. Day’s analysis of 
United States data reveals that the vast rural-to-urban migration of 
the last few decades is directly associated with changes in agricultural 
technology, the use of fertilizer, and changes in crops farmed, all of 
which reduced drastically the labor requirements on farms in this 


These bare, but complex, facts provide only a rudimentary 
record of the source of large migrations in serious deprivation. The 
historical accounts capture more vividly the abject misery created by 
these events that culminated in the great migrations. Handlin creates 
an important image in his conception of the uprooted departing 
from their homelands all over Europe.^® The unbelievable tragedy 

119 Marc Fried 

of the Irish famines has been reported often enough to be patheti- 
cally believable. Similar, if not quite as severe, situations obtained 
both earlier and later in much of Europe. Hansen reports a relatively 
early event in the migration from Germany in which the demand for 
berths was so great that fares were boosted beyond the reasonable 
hope of the bewildered families who had come to Amsterdam and 
Rotterdam with barely enough money for minimal transportation.^® 
And Balch, describing the situation in Eastern Europe, points to the 
strains as the outcome of a long history with its most immediate 
antecedents in the demise of feudalism without adequate resources to 
sustain an effective peasant economy.^® 

Although poverty, misery, debt, disappearing land, and expand- 
ing population stalked the peasantry of England, Ireland, Germany, 
Poland, Italy, and Sweden and must be held to account for the gross 
trend of out-migration, it is noteworthy that those selective factors 
that clearly operated gave precedence to the able-bodied, the effec- 
tive, those who could afford the costs of passage. While the evidence 
for the superiority of the migrants in the European migrations leaves 
much to be desired, it is widely accepted by the historians of the 
European migrations. Balch reports that tliose districts in direst and 
most settled poverty were not the major sources of emigration.®^ 
Foerster reports a similar factor in the distribution of emigration 
from southern Italy.®® Walker describes the German emigration as 
predominantly one of the lower-middle classes and of rural crafts- 
men.®® And the data from Britain suggest that, despite strong en- 
couragement to migrate, the paupers were highly resistant to such 
moves, but that the skilled laborer, displaced by machinery, eagerly 
went to the United States.®^ These views are given greater credence 
by the more systematic, although fragmentary, data from the United 
States that indicate the educational superiority of those individuals 
who migrate compared to the persons who remain in their home 

Thus, deprivation provides a background, but not a specific ex- 
planation, for the great migrations from Europe. Waves of migration 
from different European countries rose with increases in population 
and with technical innovations or changes in crop patterns that made 
men redundant or superfluous.®® Superimposed upon these long-term 
patterns, severe crises, famines, and intensified oppression created 
great, if short-lived, peaks of emigration representing the direct con- 
sequences of deprivation. Withal, the strains, difficulties, and de- 
mands of migration were sufficiently great, the process sufficiently 

121 Marc Fried 

United States.-® More generally, for those periods after the Civil 
"W^ar in which the economic data are more adequate, the peaks and 
troughs of economic indicators are accompanied by rises and falls in 
immigration. Hoivever, trhile the c)xlical patterns of emplojinent 
and immigration tvere similar, the sheer volume of migration re- 
mained high tlirough prosperity and depression and corresponded 
less closely to the level of emplos-ment. These patterns held not only 
for European immigration as a whole but also for each of the sepa- 
rate, large migration streams from different European countries. 

Supportive evidence for the conclusion that migration is influ- 
enced by emplo)-ment opportunities in the place of destination can 
be found in studies of internal migration within the United States. 
In the temporal series of interrelationships bettveen migration and 
economic opportunity for the period from 1880 to 1940, Dorothy 
Thomas finds striking differences in migration betiveen prosperous 
and depressed decades.^^ Analj-zing regional displacements svithin 
the United States, she finds a trend toward higher rates of net migra- 
tion among those areas of the country that have higher income levels. 
Lowry’s analysis of migration beoveen metropolitan areas in the 
United States for the period from 1955 provides support 

for the importance of economic opportunities in the place of destina- 
tion.®® Thus, just as the data from places of origin point to the 
importance of deprivadon and expulsive forces, so do the data based 
on places of desdnation support the significance of opportunity and 
attractive forces in encouraging migradon.®^ It is only the larger 
generalizadons about this process that take account of the interactive 
nattrre of the process. Thus, as Vance points out, migradon proceeds 
(a) from losver to higher per capita income areas, (b) from extractive 
to industrialized economies, and (c) from areas of high natural in- 
crease of population to those of low natural increase.®® The process 
of migradon can only be conceived, in this light, as a shift of popula- 
tion from conditions of disadvantage and restriction to those of rela- 
tis'ely greater advantage and potentiality. 

kligradon is, of course, a continuous process tlu-ough histor}’. 
Mass migrations represent only one important form of population 
redistribution. The most intensive efforts to restrict migratory move- 
ment, exemplified in the limitation of the serf or slave to a particular 
plot of land or a particular master, have never served entirely to 
eliminate geographical and job mobility. "^Vhether the same factors 
operate in accounting for the endemic process of geographical migra- 
tion as those that account for mass migration is unclear. As ive have 

122 Deprivation and Migration 

indicated, even mass migrations are highly selective and represent the 
movement of only a minority of the population from any place. As 
Eisenstadt points out, the very choice of migration as a potential 
mass movement is itself bound up with particular social and eco- 
nomic settings in which the rise of autonomous economic motivation 
strivings for achievement, aspirations for liberalism and univer- 
salistic orientations, and the demise of group life and community 
embeddedness are moderately widespread.®^ But the selective deci- 
sion to migrate, whether individually or as part of a massive move- 
ment, must still be based on similar orientations and motivations 
impelled by the contrast between existing deprivations, expectable 
risks, and anticipated opportunities. And the weight of evidence sug- 
gests that the more massive migrations are more heavily influenced 
by deprivations at the point of origin that disrupt the entire fabric of 
life or of the very means of living of the vast proportion of low-status 
people in a country or area. It is hardly a surprising consequence that 
there appears to be a close association between the massiveness of 
emigration, the severity of deprivation and disruption, and the low- 
status composition of the migration stream. 

Certainly, the vast majority of the immigrants to the United 
States during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries were relatively 
uneducated people from rural areas: farmers, farm laborers, un- 
skilled or semiskilled workers, and rural or semirural craftsmen.®* 
The United Kingdom, of course, provided a larger proportion of 
skilled workers than any other region of the world; they were also 
distinguished by their specific occupational interest, by the eagerness 
with which their services were sought, and by their continuity in 
occupations they had held before emigrating.®® Between 1875 and 
igio, more than half the immigrants from Wales and Scotland were 
listed as skilled laborers and nearly as high a proportion from En- 
gland. By contrast, throughout this same period, immigrants from 
Ireland were preponderantly common laborers or servants and rarely 
numbered as many as 10 per cent skilled laborers.®® The data for 
Italian immigrants suggest a picture similar to that for the Irish, with 
agricultural labor substituting for the servant category. The German 
migration seemed to draw more heavily on farmers and rural crafts- 
men, but nonetheless included predominantly the higher categories 
of low-status workers.®'^ 

Although there have been no thorough studies, at least in En- 
glish, of the occupational histories of migrants compared to nonmi- 

123 Marc Fried 

grants, there is a general consensus that low-status newcomers to an 
area suffer serious disadvantages compared to natives of similar 
status.3® These disadvantages occur through entering the lowest- 
status jobs and through a high degree of job insecurity. Thus, mi- 
grants have higher levels of unemployment and among the lowest 
incomes in urban areas. While there almost certainly are large differ- 
ences depending on educational level, urban experience, and social 
acceptance of different ethnic or racial groups, the phenomenally low 
status of migrants appears to be quite general. Vance points out that, 
while migrants earn less than most workers in the areas to which they 
move, they earn more on the average than they did before relocat- 
ing.®® Leyburn’s study of Southern Appalachian migrants to Cincin- 
nati indicates a marked disadvantage for migrants in employment 
rates.^® Lipset and Bendix show evidence for marked differences in 
occupational status and mobility depending both on migration status 
and size of community of origin in several American studies as well as 
in Sweden and in Germany.^^ Thernstrom provides data showing 
the marked differences in occupational mobility of immigrants com- 
pared to natives in nineteenth-century Newburyport.^® And Blau 
and Duncan’s analysis of more recent data, more carefully controlled 
than previous studies although heavily weighted by more recent and 
more highly selective migrations as well as by recent periods of eco- 
nomic expansion, indicates an improvement in rates of occupational 
mobility for immigrants with a continuing disadvantage for those 
immigrants from the least-favored countries.^® 


The many millions of immigrants from European countries from the 
middle of the nineteenth century until relatively recent decades bore 
the full brunt of the low-status positions accorded the newcomer, the 
foreign-born, the rural peasant or worker, the uneducated, and the 
socially ostracized. Although few studies permit us to clarify the com- 
ponents of background or status most clearly implicated in the de- 
meaning occupational conditions of the immigrant, the data are 
unambiguous in revealing their lowly state.^^ At the extreme, immi- 
grants from Ireland, Italy, and Poland were at the bottom of the 
occupational ladder and worked under conditions of unbelievable 

124 Deprivation and Migration 

degradation and exploitation. However, even the migrants from En- 
gland, Scotland, and Wales started at levels considerably below tlw 
native population.^s 

A matter of more serious concern than low initial status is the 
slow and difficult process of mobility and assimilation. For the Brit- 
ish, rvhose occupational distributions were higher than those of tlie 
native Americans by the second generation, assimilation presented no 
special problems.^'^ For other groups like the Germans and Scandi- 
navians, who often lived in ethnically homogeneous enclaves, the 
process of social mobility occurred with moderate facility.-*® Among 
the Jervs, who have been the proverbial representatives of rapid so- 
cial mobility, the process has been uneven and reveals some of die 
special problems of both mobility and assimilation in the face of 
overwhelming discrimination and restrictions.^® And although the 
Chinese and Japanese, among the non-European immigrants, have 
achieved extremely high levels of education and occupation, tlieir 
slow and painful accomplislunent is hardly testimony to the open- 
mobility pattern or the ease of assimilation in the United States.®® 

The most recent urban migrant groups, the Negro, the Puerto 
Rican, and tire Mexican-American have suffered severely, but many 
earlier immigrant groups have also experienced an extremely slow 
and precarious process of social mobility. Tliis has been particularly 
notable among the Irish.®i In 1870, more than twenty years after 
their great migration and about a half century after the beginning of 
a substantial migration stream, 68.6 per cent of the first generation 
were manual workers or servants; by 1900, it had increased to 71.C 
per cent of the first-generation Irish. By contrast, the entire popula- 
tion of the United States, including many other low-status immi- 
grants, contained only 45.1 per cent in these occupational categories 
in 1900. Moreover, progress was very slow for the second generation: 
In igoo, 59.7 per cent of the second-generation Irish were classified in 
manual work or domestic service.®^ Indeed, by 1950, the foreign-born 
Irish, including many who had migrated shortly after the turn of tlie 
century during the era of dwindling Irish immigration, were maik- 
edly underrepresented in white-collar occupations although they had 
achieved some status as semiskilled and skilled svorkers, managers, 
officials, and proprietors. The second generation, however, was mo%- 
ing rapidly tosvard parity with tlie native white population of natise 

The situation of tlie Irish was fairly extreme and ivas com- 
pounded by a long history' of degi-adation and restriction, by the rush 

125 Marc Fried 

to depart that often led them to inappropriate destinations, by the 
severe anti-Catholicism that met them, and by the dominance of 
parochial education that sheltered the second generation from the 
impact of American values and orientations.^^ But the Italians, ar- 
riving more recently than the Irish, were also markedly underrepre- 
sented in all higher-status occupations as late as 1950, and the second 
generation was moving more slowly than the Irish to an occupational 
distribution comparable with native whites of native parentage.®® 
The Germans and the Poles had mobility rates higher than the Irish- 
Italian pattern but considerably lower than the English, Scotch, or 
Welsh. By 1910, the Germans were showing a modest level of mobil- 
ity, but were still underrepresented in high-status occupations. By 
1950, the first-generation Germans were close to parity with native 
white Americans, but the second generation was not yet equivalent 
to native whites of native parentage.®® The Poles found opportuni- 
ties for mobility from unskilled to skilled ranks in the major manu- 
facturing industries. But few moved on rapidly to positions as skilled 
workers.®^ By 1950, however, the Poles of foreign birth had moved 
far and were well represented among skilled workers, managers, and 

What these facts highlight, imperfect though they may be, is the 
great gap between an image of continuous and rapid mobility and 
the reality of slow, arduous, intragenerational and intergenerational 
change in status. There is no question that the process of upward 
mobility among immigrants has been continuous. But if, sixty to one 
hundred years after an ethnic group has initiated large-scale immi- 
gration into this country and much of that immigration necessarily 
occurred more than forty years ago, there is still such a wide discrep- 
ancy in occupational achievement from the host population, then we 
must alter our conceptions of the process. The rungs of the mobility 
ladder are wide apart for migrants to an urban, industrial society. 
Just as the melting pot has failed to melt and consolidate its ethnic 
prey, so has the mobility process failed to amalgamate its poverty- 
stricken, uneducated, and unskilled immigrants or their children in a 
vision of success. The deprived migrants of another era remain rela- 
tively disadvantaged, and their children suffer the consequences of 
these deprivations while slowly overcoming their effects. 

At the very least, we must consider the conventional conception 
of mobility and assimilation of ethnic minorities in the United States 
a myth. Some few ethnic groups have, in fact, been highly mobile 
particularly if they brought scarce skills or moved into a prepared 

126 Deprivation and Migration 

environment. Other ethnic groups, the large majority, have been 
slowly mobile and have had to overcome gigantic obstacles in thcr 
struggles for educational attainment, occupational status, and hi;b 
income. And a few ethnic groups have struggled, virtually in \ 7 .in. 
until a new generation, bearing fewer of the marks of ethnicity and 
in a different social environment, were able to confront the problem 
without the preformed conviction that they tvere doomed to failure. 
We must also forego any ready assumptions about tlie ease of social 
assimilation. While social mobility is often a stage in the lanjcr 
assimilation of immigrants, there are large gaps in the process, and 
mobility achievements among immigrants, as svith the Negro, Puerto 
Rican, and Mexican-American, have often proved necessary, but 
hardly sufficient, for social assimilation. 

After almost a half century during which there have been no 
mass immigrations from Europe or Asia, the issue of tire social mobil- 
ity and social assimilation of the foreign-born and of their nathc- 
born children is no longer as trenchant and pressing a problem as it 
once was in the large cities of the United States. Although some 
ethnic groups have not yet reached parity with the population as a 
whole in education, occupation, or income, and have not yet achieved 
total desegregation in housing, the differences are not large. Buoyed 
by several periods of great prosperity that have facilitated, probably 
with disproportionate advantage, the mobility opportunities of im- 
migrants, and in the context of a high standard of living in an 
affluent society, the problem seems academic. 

However, the problem is far from academic. If these conclusions 
are correct, we must not only dismiss the image of rapid mobility and 
assimilation, but must place, in its stead, an image of a moderately 
restrictive and fundamentally segregationist society. Despite the ab- 
sence of an overtly structured status system on the model of post 
feudal societies, issues of ethnicity, race, and culture have been super- 
imposed on economic and occupational differences to provide a basis 
for discrimination, prejudice, and social inequality. The labor of 
millions of pov'erty-stricken immigrants "was necessary for the indus- 
trial expansion of the United States, and only because of tliis were its 
doors open to indentured servants, slav'es, serfs, and, as a result, to 
their descendants. But the people were themselves viewed as a vast 
and impersonal, low-status labor force to whom society owed nothing. 
Translations of the Elizabethan Poor Laws discouraging vagrants 
and the indigent and pioneering work in the development of an 
urban police force were our primary control meclianisms. Little at 

127 Marc Fried 

tcntion was given to the social and personal needs of immigrants 
until the explosion of urban social problems made their desperate 
situations unavoidably evident to a few people. Even then, the soci- 
ety offered the immigrant with less evident needs and who is-as a less 
evident threat little or no assistance and placed great impediments in 
tlie path of establishing a meaningful and integrated life experience 
in the new world. 

The issue is certainly neither academic nor attenuated svhen we 
confront, in this light, the situation of more recent migrants to the 
urban industrial environment. We shall focus particularly on the 
Negro experience because it highlights, in the most extreme fashion, 
the limits of social mobility and the gap between social mobility and 
social assimilation in a society characterized by severe prejudice, 
segregationist policies, and a casual disregard for social justice. 
Nonetheless, neither the miser)' and constraint imposed on the Negro 
nor the general affluence tliat mitigates the visibility and the most 
ostensible consequences of underprivilege should allou- us to ignore 
the failures of assimilation and mobility that characterize the history 
of immigration to the United States. It may be here, in some of the 
underlying similarities ratlier than in the many striking differences, 
that the most severe problems and limitations of our society are 
buried but only partly concealed. 


The histor)' of settlement and growth in the United States is domi- 
nated by several major trends of population movement. The large- 
scale movement of American Negroes, one of the most prominent 
streams of migration in this countrs’ since 1910, can be seen as a 
special case of these trends. The significance of tlie Negro migration 
is, in large part, revealed botli in the similarities to and in the differ- 
ences from other patterns of migration in the United States. 

The consistenq- of over-all rates of geographical mobility in tlie 
United States over long periods of time is striking. Since at least 1850, 
the proportion of the native population living in states different 
from tliose in ivhich they had been born has varied little (between 
approximately 20 and 25 per cent) This high and stable level of 
population movement tos characterized quite early by expanding 
populations along the moving western frontiers and by the slow con- 
traction of agricultural populations and the groivth of urban popula- 

128 Deprivation and Migration 

tions. These tivo trends coincided to some extent not merely in •--* 
but in the enormous rates of growth of frontier towns and cities j 
frontier that gradually moved farther westward over more t; :n - 
centur)'. During several decades, these syestward frontier to-.m^ rr i 
cities shifted from Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, and Lexington to S; 
Louis, Chicago, Denver, and San Francisco co The rapid gront’; c; 
towns and cities was further implemented, often to the biirstir- 
point, by the vast tides of immigration that fed the northeastern 
section of the country but gradually expanded to the entire countrs. 
At the same time, since 1790, there was a gradual net ont-mierration 
from rural areas and a gradual net in-migration to urban area* 
within the United States. In combination, these forces led to a mas- 
sive change from a rural to an urban society. 

One of the major regional sources of this siiift from a rural to an 
urban society was the slow population decline in the South, a section 
of the country that had previously harbored tlie largest rural, agrar- 
ian population. From 1880 on, there avas a striking transfer of popu- 
lation out of the southern states, a shift that was cventuaily to 
become the largest stream of out-migration in the United States. This 
is vividly depicted in Figure 5-1.®^ Since 1870, this movement has 
been dominated (and, indeed, avas initiated) by the migration of 
Negroes out of the South to the northeastern states. After 1910, aviih 
an increasing rate of migration out of the South, the north central 
states began to receive a large number of Negro migrants. 1 Iiis 
monolithic and accelerating escape from the South by tlie large- 
southern Negro population soon took on the appearance of a dr.i- 
matic exodus through the addition of almost as large a munljcr of 
white out-migrants from the South. 

It is notable that, between 1950 and 1960 and even earlier, a 
gi-adual change in the character of out-migration from the Soiitli 
developed. While the large net out-migiation of Negroes continued 
at only a slightly diminished pace, the net out-migration of wliitcs 
decreased as a result of a reverse stream of in-migration. In particu- 
lar, a reverse stream of in-migration developed throiigli the move- 
ment of whites from the Northeast to some of the metropolitan and 
urban areas in the South.®- 

The difference in the destination of the white and Negro migra- 
tion from the South is also clear in Figure 5-1. Tlie ovcrwliclming 
direction of population movement among whites was toward the We.t 
tliroughout the period from 1870 to 1950, a growth that included otu- 
migrant -whites from tlie northeast and the north central states as 

129 Marc Fried 

well as from the South. By contrast, the Negro out-migration from 
the South was initially directed almost e.vclusivcly toward the North- 
east. By i8go, there tvas a slowly growing movement and, by 1910, a 
rapidly growing movement toward the north central states. The 

Net Out-Migration 

Net In-Migration 

































Number in Millions 

Figure 5 - 1 . Net Migration of Nati\e M'iiites and Negroes, by Regions, 1 S 70 - 
iSSo to 10 . 50 - 1950 . 

From Simon Kuxnct'. Do-oOi) S'vainc Thomas, ct a!.. Dis'rihutio-. cr.d 

Ecc'tP’f.c Grouth; Criited Stc.'CJ, r.'-o-xpso (Fhilactdphia: .American Phi'.osopbical 
Socictj, 1954), TabV 1.57. 

130 Deprivation and Migration 

West only slowly captured a small part of this migrant stream of 
Negroes from the South, a direction of movement that did not be- 
come notable until the decade 1940-1950. 

Viewed only on the basis of the numbers or proportions of Ne- 
groes within large sections of tlie country or moving between them, it 
is evident that the Negro migration out of the South did not readi 
striking size until the decade between 1910 and 1920. Nonetheless, 
this was hardly the beginning of significant Negro migrations. In- 
deed, conceived only in terms of these regional shifts, the decade 
between 1900 and 1910 saw a fairly large migration. Between 1870 
and 1890, the proportions of southern-born Negroes among the 
northern Negro population remained fairly constant at 30 per cent. 
This, itself, implies that the rate of in-migration to the Nordi was 
proportional to the indigenous increase of northern-bom Negroes.®^ 
By 1900, there was a small proportionate increase to 31 per cent, 
which grew to 40 per cent in 1910 and 50 per cent in 1920. Thus, 
there was almost as large a percentage increase of southern-born Ne- 
gro migrants in the Negro population living in the North between 
1900 and 1910 as there was in the frequently mentioned migration of 
the 1910-1920 decade. Other migratory movements also occurred in 
the period prior to igao. While the border states were, at first, most 
prominent as sources of northward migration of Negroes, there ivas a 
strong trend of movement toward the southivest cotton-growing re- 
gions from other parts of the South.®^ One of the more striking 
migrations, although numerically small, ivas the "Kansas Exodus” of 
1879 in which between 25,000 and 50,000 southern Negroes, dis- 
gusted with the failure of reconstruction, moved en masse to Kan- 

A number of important features of the huge migration of 
Negroes from the southern states stand out. First and foremost is the 
fact that by i960 tliere had been a remarkable sliift of tlie Negro 
population out of the Soutli. In 1790, gi per cent of tlie Negroes in 
the United States lived in the South. By igio, this was reduced only 
to 89 per cent. But by 1960, this proportion had dropped to 52 per 
cent.®® Wliile tlie movement of southern Negi'oes folloived the gross 
patterns of population redistribution in the United States since igm, 
the proportions of Negroes who left the South were far greater than 
the proportions of the numerically larger ivhite southern population. 
From the vantage point of in-migration in the North, this migra- 
tion ivas smaller in numbers than the vast European immigration 
from 1850 to 1910, annually or in aggregate. But it increased the 

131 Marc Fried 

proportions of the Negro population living in urban areas more 
dramatically than any equivalent concentration of a single ethnic 
group during the earlier period. At the same time, it is noteworthy 
that the Negro population remaining in the South is very large, and, 
indeed, even in i960 a slight majority of the total Negro population 
of the United States lived in southern states. 

A detailed analysis of the causes of the great Negro migration of 
the period from 1910 to i960 is even more difficult than in the case of 
the European migrations of 1830 to 1920. To some extent, the situa- 
tion of the southern Negro seems so self-evidently miserable that 
there may be little temptation to investigate it further. Whatever the 
manifestations of discrimination and unequal opportunities for Ne- 
groes in the North and West, objectively, discrimination is less perva- 
sive, less extreme, and has less striking consequences for education, 
jobs, and incomes. This difference alone might account for the mass 
movement of southern Negroes even apart from the very slow prog- 
ress of the South in urbanization and industrialization. Certainly the 
more recent and rapid growth of industry and of cities in the South, 
coupled with an expanding economy, has stemmed some of the tide 
of net out-migration by whites without appreciably affecting the out- 
migration of Negroes. 

Although it is difficult to attribute the geographical displace- 
ment of Negroes and the trend of the Negro population out of farms 
and into rural nonfarm areas and cities precisely, Dorothy Thomas’s 
data indicate that economic conditions are almost certainly in- 
volved.®^ Rates of migration, according to her analysis, are highest 
during periods of prosperity and are manifest largely as shifts from 
areas of relatively low incomes to areas of relatively high incomes. 
Moreover, at almost all age levels, the migration behavior of the 
Negro population appears to be affected more severely by cycles of 
prosperity and depression than are either the native white popula- 
tion or the foreign-born. That is, the tide of migration is more mark- 
edly diminished during depressions and more markedly augmented 
during prosperous periods among Negroes than among other subpop- 
ulations. The implications of these findings are not entirely clear. 
They may be interpreted as evidence that the Negro population of 
the United States is less responsive to "expulsive" forces and more 
responsive to “attractive” forces than native whites or foreign-born. 
Indeed, it is almost certainly the case that, because of discrimination, 
the Negro’s chances of finding a job in the city during depressions are 
more drastically diminished than for the population as a whole; and. 

133 Marc Fried 

urban residence for Negi'oes and whites for the United States as a 
whole and by regional division into South and non-South (North, 
Central, and West) since igio. The table reveals both the enormous 
increase in the urbanization of the American Negro since 1910 and 
the continuing difference between the South and other regions of the 

Table 5-2. Percentage of Negro and White Population Living in 
Urban Areas by Region, j^io-ip6o 


United States 



PLUS West 
















































From Dorothy K. Ncirman, “The Negro’s Journey to the City — Part I,” Monthly Labor 
Review, LXXXVIII ( 19 G 5 ), Cl-J-O^g. 

In the South, the urbanization of the Negro has paralleled to a 
remarkable degree the urbanization of the white population. By 
jg6o, as a result of the gradual decrease in agricultural populations, 
the majority of both Negroes and whites in the South were living in 
urban areas. Indeed, comparing the data in this table for the South 
and for the North and West and bearing in mind the enormous 
migration of Negroes from the Soutli since 1910, it becomes clear that 
the migration also resulted in a dramatic urbanization of the Negro 
population in the United States. Even in jgio, before the full swing 
of the great migration of Negroes from the South, more than three- 
quarters of the Negro population living outside the South (and pre- 
dominantly in the Northeast) were living in cities. And with the 
growing tide of Negro migration from the South since 1910, the 
proportion living in urban areas has increased continuously. In this 
respect, the pattern of Negro migration has many similarities to the 
great wave of foreign immigration particularly during its last fifty 
years (1870 to 1920) and has resulted in a predominantly urban 
ethnic minority.®® It is also notable that, while the urban trend of 
the white population has been quite marked throughout this period. 

134 Deprivation and Migration 

the higher level of urbanization among the Negro population than 
among the tvhite population in the North and 1\^est has been main- 
tained during at least five decades. 

The exact characteristics of this urban movement of the NetTo 
population are not altogether clear, and the available statistics "do 
not allow more than slightly informed conjectures. Generally speak- 
ing, rates of migration have been higher for whites than for non- 
whites despite the somewhat higher rates of short-distance moves bv 
Negroes.^o But the huge loss of farm populations to nonfarm r«i- 
dences has been even greater for nonwhites tlian for wliites and lias 
disproportionately affected the South compared to otlier regions of 
the country.'^i By no means do these short-distance or long-distance 
moves represent only movement from farm to mban residence either 
for whites or nonwhites. Indeed, rural nonfarm residence has gener- 
ally shown the greatest net in-migration rates of any residential 
group. However, there is some suggestion from these data, to which 
Figure 5-2 gives visible form, indicating a familiar pattern of migra- 
tion: that the vast majority of moves are relatively short-distance 
moves, that these short-distance moves take place over a gradient 
from sparser to denser population concentrations by stages, and that 
the large increases in urban populations result from the vast inue- 
ments due to these smaller and successive migrations."- With the 
gradual depletion of farm populations, with the large shift of the 
Negro population in the Soutli from rural farm to rural nonfarm 
residence, to small cities, and to large cities over time, an increasing 
proportion of the continuing Negro migration becomes closer, both 
geographically and culturally, to the urban, industrial environment 
of the northern, central, and western regions of the country. 

One final feature of the Negro migration and its effect on the 
Negro population of urban areas warrants attention: the attributes 
of migrants and the changing composition of the urban, Negro popu- 
lation. Although there are differences of view concerning the nature 
of migrant populations, the weight of evidence suggests tliat the great 
European migrations were dominated by those people from deprived 
areas rvho were most competent, with the highest occupational skills, 
and with some minimal financial resources to carry them through the 
earliest phases of migration.” Studies of internal migration in the 
United States give evidence that, indeed, migrants are of higher edu- 
cational and occupational status than are nonmigrants from the same 

To some extent, the evaluation of the attributes of migrants has 

135 Marc Fried 

been a function of the vantage point from tdiicli observation or 
analysis -was carried out Seen in the context of an lu-banized popula- 
tion, migrants have often appeared to be of lower status, less compe- 
tent, ill prepared for dealing -with urban complexities and ambigui- 
ties. On the other hand, compared to nonmigrants tvho remained in 
the areas from winch the migrants came, they have often appeared to 
be those with the greatest opportunit)- in the area of origin. As Dun- 
can and Duncan’s analpis of Chicago data reveals, both of these 
obser\-ations are probably correct.'^ The educational status of Negro 
migrants to Chicago in the decade 1940-1950 ivas higher than that 
of the states from which they mainly came, but lower than that of the 
resident Negro populauon in Chicago. Ho-wever, ivhile both Negro 

fn Urbanized Areas 

Areas of 3,000,000 ormore 
Areas of 1,000,000 to 3,000,000 
Areas of 250,000 to 1,000,000 
Areas of less than 250,000 





Places of 25,000 ormore 
Places of 10,000 to 25,000 
Places of 2,500 to 10,000 
Places of 1,0iX) to 2,500 

Outside Urbanized Areas 



Incorporated places of less than 1,000 

Other rural 

I t I I I I I I 

0 10 20 30 40 SO 60 70 percent 
\///A White Movers Nonwhite Movers 

Figure 5-2. Urban-Rural Residence — Percentage of all movers tvho came 
from farms, for the white and nonwhite population, by size of place at 
destination, 1949 to 1950 

From Henrv S. Shnock. Jr., Fopulation Mobility IVithin the United States (Chicago: 
Communitj and Familj Study Center. 196^). p. 319. 

136 Deprivation and Migration 

and white migrants tend to be of higher educational level than non- 
migi-ants from the same areas, this is particularly the case for Negro 
migrants^*! There is also evidence of change in the character of 
Negro migration that has led both to an increase in intermetropoli- 
tan migration and. corresponding to this, to an improvement in the 
educational and occupational composition of Negro migrants com- 
pared to the resident Negro population in the receiving metropolitan 

Taeuber and Taeuber have given particular consideration to the 
changing characteristics of Negro migrants and have pointed up the 
fact that, over the last few decades, the urban attributes of Negro 
migrants have approximated ever more closely to those tliat charac- 
terize white migrants."® However, in this as in many other compari- 
sons that permit a distinction between the South and other regions of 
the counti7, there is a marked difference between southern cities, on 
the one hand, and northern, raidtvestern, or tvestern cities on the 
other. As we might expect on the basis of other information about 
patterns of Negro migration, a greater proportion of in-migrants to 
metropolitan areas in northern and border states come from other 
metropolitan areas than do in-migrants to southern cities. In south- 
ern metropolitan areas, nonmetropolitan immigrants are consider- 
ably more frequent than are in-migrants from other metropolitan 
areas.'’’® Border metropolitan areas are intermediate and show a 
slightly greater proportion of in-migrants from nonmetropolitan 
areas. In northern metropolitan areas, hotvever, Negro in-migrants 
more frequently come from other metropolitan areas. 

The differences in metropolitan and nonmetropolitan origins of 
Negro migrants into northern, border, and southern metropolitan 
areas, the association of metropolitan origin and educational or occu- 
pational status, and the relative significance of in-migration and out- 
migration account, in part, for the changing composition of the 
Negro population of metropolitan areas in different regions of the 
country. In the South, the greater proportion of nonmetropolitan in- 
migrants, their relatively lower educational and occupational status 
compared to the resident population, and the much heavier out- 
migration of high-status Negroes has led to declining educational 
and occupational status in the resident Negro population. By con- 
trast, the increase in the migration to northern metropolitan areas of 
young Negro migrants of high educational and occupational status 
from other metropolitan areas has led to an improvement in the 
educational and occupational composition of the resident Negro 

137 Marc Fried 

population. Even ivith age controlled, the difference from previous 
decades is striking since, at the very least, the in-migrant population 
of 1955 to i960 was equivalent to the resident population of the same 
ages in education and occupation. It is equally notable that, for this 
same period, Negro in-migrants to northern cities ivere equal to or of 
slightly higher education than the resident white population.®® 
Comparing results for the 1955 to 1960 period with those for earlier 
periods highlights both the absolute and relative changes in the 
composition of the Negro migration resulting in an increase in the 
educational and occupational characteristics of migrants. 

From the data on Negro migration in the United States, a few 
prominent facts stand out. "While tlie numbers and proportions of 
total population involved in this migration are smaller than those of 
the European migration of 1830 to 1920, the Negro migration of 1910 
to i960 was vast and represented a redistribution of at least six 
million Negro Americans. Hoivever, the loss of Negro population 
sustained by die South was probably of much greater proportion 
than the loss of population from any country of origin during the 
European migrations to the United States. Thus, it is estimated that 
there was a loss of approximately one-third of the population of 
Ireland during the half century after the great famine.®^ The loss of 
the Negro population from the South during an equivalent period of 
time ivas almost certainly greater than one-half. Like most of the 
streams of European migration, the movement of Negroes out of the 
South -was also largely a rural-to-urban transition. Hoivever, the 
Negro population moving into the North, Midivest, and West ivas 
even more prominently an urbanizing population, with more than 95 
per cent of those Negroes outside the South living in urban areas by 

In discussing the European migration of die nineteenth and 
early tiventieth century, we considered the relative importance of 
expulsive and attractive forces, concluding that these are inevitably 
interrelated and that both pushes and pulls were essential compo- 
nents in accounting for the migradons. For the Negro migrations of 
the past half century, the data are even less adequate, but point in a 
similar direction. Like the situations in most of the European coun- 
tries that experienced large-scale migrations, there ivere endemic 
forces that operated as continuous expulsive factors: severe poverty, a 
long process of subdivision of small farms, tenure-farming systems 
that were often duplicates of slavery or serfdom, increasing popula- 
don pressure, discrimination and restriction of opportunities, wide- 

138 Deprivation and Migration 

spread traditionalism opposed to change or deviation. Superimposed 
on these endemic forces, intensified poverty due to famine or in 
creased discrimination and restriction often led to the marked short- 
term increases in migration in the European and in the soutliem- 
Negro situation alike. 

It is clear that, both for the European migrations and for the 
migrations of Negroes from the South, there were increased rates of 
movement associated with periods of prosperity in the areas of desti- 
nation and decreased rates of movement associated with depression 
or recession in the areas of destination. The endemic expulsive forces 
are represented, in both instances, by the continuing movement of 
population throughout except under the most severe economic chaos 
in potential host areas as exemplified by the depression of the 1930s. 
On the other hand, through the haze of inadequate data it appean 
that for most of the streams of European migration and for the Negro 
migration from the South, there was much misdirection. In general, 
the trend in both cases was for movement from areas of lower 
employment and income to areas of higher employment and income. 
But there is much evidence to indicate that the areas of destination 
were determined by many factors other than maximal available eco- 
nomic opportunities. For more recent decades, Dorothy Thomas’s 
analysis suggests that the correspondence of migration and economic 
opportunity has been somewhat greater for Negroes than for either 
native-born or foreign-born whites suggesting the greater significance 
of discrimination in limiting opportunities for Negroes except under 
conditions of maximal demand for labor.®^ 

Despite the disproportionately large number of in-migrants from 
other metropolitan areas with high levels of education and occupa- 
tion, a substantial proportion of Negro migrants to northern cities 
continues to be of low status and from nonmetropolitan areas. Thus, 
while the Negro migration has begun to approximate the character 
of the white migration in some respects, there remains a substantial 
problem in the migration of rural, low-status Negroes to metropoli- 
tan areas, with little preparation either in choice of destination or in 
the adaptive necessities of life in urban, industrial societies. More- 
over, it is not at all clear that the relatively high status, intermetro- 
politan Negro migrants do not suffer some of the consequences of 
migration, especially under conditions of discrimination, in the form 
of increased rates of unemployment and diminished occupational 
status opportunities. 

With the extant data, it is not possible to trace these problems 

139 Marc Fried 

further. More detailed data are necessary to examine these questions 
more fully or ivith greater analytic precision. Ho^vever, the patterns 
of migration are largely a context for inquiring into the fate of the 
population. While it is not entirely possible to separate issues of 
geographical migration and social mobility, even to the extent that 
this could be done with the European immigration, it is important to 
ask about the rates of social mobility during these decades of migra- 
tion for the Negro population. We turn, thus, to a consideration of 
the same set of questions that we addressed about the European 
migrants: To what extent has there been a pattern of upward social 
mobility for the rapidly urbanizing Negro American, and to what 
extent have changes in social status entailed a marked diminution in 


In order to provide a meaningful comparison of the situation of the 
foreign-born immigrant to the United States and that of the Negro 
American whose migration patterns to urban industrial areas we 
have traced in gross fashion, we must now examine rates of social 
mobility and of social assimilation for Negroes. In examining the 
social mobility and assimilation of the Negro migrant, whose period 
of massive movement has occurred since approximately 1910 and 
shows only slight indications of diminution during tlie 1960s, we 
must rely heavily on recent data. Moreover, a consideration of social 
assimilation must depend almost exclusively on residential segrega- 
tion. That there have been difficulties in both social mobility and 
residential segregation of Negroes long before the large-scale migra- 
tions of the past half century, however, is clear. Although several 
historians point to the fact that, prior to the increased immigration 
associated with World War II, the resident Negro population in 
northern cities had begun to achieve a modicum of occupational and 
economic advancement, these reports are based on isolated cases 
rather than systematic population or sample data.®^ IVhatever mini- 
mal achievements the settled Negro population in northern cities 
experienced, residential segregation was pen^asive and more severe 
than for other in-migrant populations.®^ 

A wealth of data indicates that urban, industrial societies have 
quite high rates of social mobility and tliat this is true and has been 

140 Deprivation and Migration 

true for some time in the United But, apart from the 
technical difficulties of making even moderately precise estimates 
evaluations of mobility rates as “high” or “low” are extremely sul> 
jective.86 Thernstrom’s compilation of ten different studies of oc- 
cupational changes from fathers to sons covering periods from iS6o 
to 1956 illustrates a fairly similar pattern .87 All of these studies 
vary around estimates that approximately 50 to 60 per cent (ranging 
from 48 to 71 per cent) of the sons of unskilled laborers were them- 
selves either unskilled or semiskilled laborers. That the occupational 
progress of Negroes has been slow and halting by any criterion, how- 
ever, is quite evident from the gross estimates of changes in occupa- 
tional position between 1910 and i960. Tobin, quoting Hiestand’s 
data, shoivs significant improvement only during the period from 
1940 to i960, although there had been some improvement relative to 
whites since 1910.®® Even these changes, which bring the occupa- 
tional position of Negro males to tlie level of 82.1 per cent of white 
males by i960, may overstate the degree of cliange experienced. On 
the other hand, most analyses of changes in education, occupation, or 
income of Negroes over the last few decades fail to distinguish the 
South from other regions of the country, which leads to anotlier 
serious distortion of the results. Thus, Hare’s intracohort analysis 
reveals that Negro rates of occupational mobility from 1930 to 1940, 
1940 to 1950, and 1950 to i960 were higher than those for vdiites in 
each age group.®** That there was a slight decline in the rate of im- 
provement during the decade 1950 to i960 outside the South, coupled 
with a reti'ogression in the South during the same decade, gave 
the impression that the improvements of previous decades had not 
continued since the national figures did not distinguish regional 

This pattern of regional differences has been quite persistent. 
According to Hauser, in igio illiteracy was ten times greater among 
Negroes than among native whites.®** However, in the South, illiter- 
acy rates for Negroes reached 33 per cent while in the North they 
were only 10 per cent; that is, they were more tlian tliree times as 
high in the South as in the North. By 1930, Negro illiteracy rates had 
been cut in half, but white rates of illiteracy had regressed even 
more. That the South contributed disproportionately to the slon 
pace of change for the Negro is revealed by tire fact that rates of 
Negro illiteracy had grown to be four times higher in the South in 
1930 than in the North. Between 1940 and 1960, after the Census 
Bureau substituted a question on years of schooling for the question 

141 Marc Fried 

on literaq-, it is possible to estimate the change in the form of grades 
completed. During these nvo decades, tlie difference in education 
between Negro and white males had diminished from 3.3 to 2.6 sears, 
and betsveen Negro and white females it had diminished from 2.7 to 
2.5 jears.^^ Moreover, these gains understate die relatise educational 
achievement in at least one respect. Since die differentials among 
older age groups are considerably greater dian among sounger age 
groups (but the figures are based on median sears of school com- 
pleted for all age groups) , they do not fully res eal die impact of the 
gain as a function of changes os'er time. Throughout, the differences 
betsveen the South and other regions of the countrs- persisted, further 
diminishing the oser-all manifestation of educational gain. 

In revieiving studies of educational, occupational, or income 
mobility of Negroes and srhites, one is confronted by contrasting 
figures and contrasting conclusions that make any simple summars 
particularly difficult. In part, these differences are based on different 
sources of data; in part, they result from different statistical analyses. 
However, some of die most recent figures and reports appear to show 
greater consensus in finding a consistent improiement in the situa- 
don of Negroes relative to whites since i960. Spady's anahsis of 1964 
data, for e.xample, indicates marked educational gains for successiiely 
sounger age groups among bodi whites and Negroes.®- These gains 
are represented in the differences in educadonal achiesement of men 
aged 25-34, 35-44, 45-54, and 55-64 compared to their fathers’ 
educational achievements. In virtually all instances of relative 
acluesements of fadiers and sons die improvements among the 
)ounger age groups are consistent and relatively greater for Negroes 
than for whites. On die other hand, the joungest age groups among 
Negroes are approximately at the same educadonal level as the oldest 
age groups among the whites, suggesting a gap of more dian a gener- 

Although die general trend of data for earlier periods is fairly 
consistent in shoiring relatively greater occupational advances among 
Negroes dian among whites, die most recent results slioiv e\en more 
striking gains. Mudi of die occupational gain of earlier years resulted 
from the shift from agricultural to industrial employment. Thus, 
benveen 1910 and 1940, of diose gainfully employed, the proportion 
of Negroes engaged in agriculture dropped from 56 to 41 per 
cent; during the same period, the propordon of ivhites engaged in 
agriculture diminished from 33 to 21 per cent. By i960, only 11 per 
cent of the Negro labor force and S per cent of the wliite labor force 

142 Deprivation and Migration 

was engaged in agriculture, a situation of virtual paritv.f' Du:;-- 
latter period from 1940 to ig 6 o, however, otlier relative cv>- 
achieaed by Negro avorkers, and avhile tliese gains ivcre far frr-r 
one might have hoped, they did show an increased similarits 
the occupational distribution of Negroes and of whites, 
the more detailed analyses available from extensive intersiev 
suggest that, albeit at a lower level of the occupational-siatu! s:::.;. 
Negro advances are considerably greater tlian tliose nmon; i ;.;-: 
workers.®^ But the fact remains, as with educational advance*. t>j: 
these gains are occurring at different levels of the occupation.i1 hi::- 
archy; thus, Negro occupational status remains considerably bdiir,! 
that of the white population. 

The most recent reports, based on data up to 1965, continue t'- 
present a picture of cautious optimism. Several of the highcr-statu* 
level occupations are among tlie occupational areas that appear to k 
opening up opportunities for Negroes most rapidly: profcsdonil. 
technical, and kindred occupations, most particularly, but also otl-.c: 
white-collar occupations and the craftsmen and foremen ocnip,v 
tional groups.®® To some extent, however, some of the major gains 
are in occupations that are not rapidly expanding in over-all a\ ail- 
ability of positions and nonwhite gains may have to occur in diUcr- 
ent occupations to keep pace with changing patterns of industrial 
development and unemployment. During the expanding economy of 
1962 to 1965, nonwhite workers had an even greater reduction in 
unemployment than white workers, but these marked gains during 
periods of high employment are not necessarily stable.®® At the satr.c 
time, they highlight a point that Myrdal has made, that the effects of 
discrimination can only be markedly diminished through m.iximir- 
ing over-all job opportunities.®" During tliis same period bei'-vcen 
1962 and 1965, the white-nonwhite educational differential for 
ent occupational categories had also diminished. tVhile this repre- 
sents, in part, the same phenomenon of increased demand for S'or>^- 
ers, it does indicate greater parity in the criteria used lor employ in,; 
nonrvhite and rvhite rvorkers. 

The data comparing incomes of Negro and white families shO" 
much tlie same pattern as do the data for education and occupann-^ 
and clearly reveal all of the trends previously discussed.®* Iktuce-) 
1947 and 1966, tlie proportions of families with incomes of $7,000 p - 
year or more rose considerably among both Negroes and ivhites. In 
deed, they rose more sharply for Negro than for white families. - 
two and one-half times as many wliite families had incomes at ti..s 

143 Marc Fried 

level in 1966 compared to 1947, but four times as many Negro fami- 
lies were in this category in 1966 as compared to 1947. Despite this 
remarkable and disproportionately great gain among Negro family 
incomes, the proportion of white families in this income category in 
1966 was twice the proportion of Negro families. As with previous 
data, the difference between the South and other regions was great. 
In the South in 1966, the proportion of whites with incomes of §7,000 
per year was three times that of Negroes; in other regions, the ratio 
was approximately 3:2. Another feature of the data that warrants 
attention is that, although the over-all gains were proportionately 
greater for Negroes than for whites, recession years offered minimal 
interruption to the progress of white families but seriously delayed or 
retarded the gains of Negro families. 

In view of the extremely high levels of discrimination and in- 
equality of opportunity that have plagued the Negro population of 
the United States and despite the many qualifications that must be 
made, rates of Negro mobility in education, occupation, and income 
appear quite high and considerably higher than one might have 
anticipated. Certainly, the gains have not been great enough to pro- 
vide any comfortable image of equality. Certainly, there may be 
serious costs involved in even moderate mobility achievements in the 
face of immoderate inequality of opportunity. Certainly, marked 
deficits in the educational, occupational, and economic situation of 
Negroes remain. And certainly, the evident consequences of current, 
as well as past, discrimination appear in the discrepancies between 
achievements and rewards for achievement. At each educational level, 
Negro occupational status is lower than the corresponding occupa- 
tional statuses of whites.®® At each educational level, the incomes of 
Negro families are lower than the corresponding incomes of white 
families.!®® And at each occupational level, as well, Negroes receive 
lower incomes than do corresponding white workers. As Blau and 
Duncan point out, "It hardly comes as a surprise that racial discrimi- 
nation in the United States is reflected in the Negro’s inferior 
chances of occupational success, although the extent to 'ivliich Ne- 
groes tvith the same amount of education as whites remain behind in 
the struggle for desirable occupations is striking.” i®! 

In stating tliat Negro achievements in social mobility have been 
surprisingly high in light of marked inequalities of opportunity, we 
find little cause for optimism. Indeed, in comparing social mobility 
among foreign-bom immigrants and among native Negroes, we have 
slowly come to the conclusion that the assumed differences in rates of 

144 Deprivation and Migration 

achievement are almost certainly not so great as is usually con- 
ceived.102 But these di£Ferences between Negroes and foreign-born 
whites diminish in the light of these data not because of the very 
high levels of manifest achievement but because both the forei<Ti 
immigrants of the earlier period and the Negro migrants of the past 
half century have similarly fought against great obstacles and severe 
inequalities only to experience slow and meager gains. We have no 
objective tvay of measuring or even estimating the differences in 
opportunities for educational, occupational, or economic mobility for 
the earlier European immigrant and the more recent Negro migrant 
from the South. It appears almost indubitable that Negroes have e.\- 
perienced the most devastating forms of prejudice and limitation ol 
opportunity. But this emerges as a serious intensification of continu- 
ing patterns of discrimination and inequality of opportunity in our 
society rather than as a wholly unique phenomenon. 

While the earlier literature about the foreign immigrants was 
invariably hostile and critical and, from our present vantage point, 
unbelievably insulting, as early as 1890 Riis noted the more severely 
underprivileged and degrading situation of the Negro.^®* It may, 
indeed, be the case that the modest degree to which the Negro Amer- 
ican population has achieved mobility is all the more remarkable a 
feat. The scattered evidence of very high levels of motivation and 
aspiration among Negroes, of widespread and effective community 
leadership in either collaboration or revolt, of outstanding achieve- 
ments in numerous fields, even the fact that the most striking occupa- 
tional gains of the past five years have been in the most highly 
skilled professional and technical pursuits, suggest that we must alter 
our image of the Negro in the United States. In view of the serious 
impediments to achievement, the level of accomplishment may well 
be remarkably great. And in view of the evidence for extremely slow 
progress among the immigrants of the gre^t Emropean migrations, 
there may be far less discrepancq^ in social mobility between white 
immigrants and Negro migrants than we ordinarily imagine. 

Although we do not have any adequate measure of discrimina- 
tion and the significance of inequality of opportunity as a basis for 
evaluating mobility achievements, measures of housing segregauon 
do provide some basis for evaluating the role of discrimination m 
social assimilation. In comparing residential segregation of forei^ 
born immigrants and their second-generation offspring for earlier 
periods with the early or more recent patterns of segregation of Ne 
groes, we have only the reports of observers. That such segregation 

145 Marc Fried 

was ividespread both along ethnic and social-class divisions, however, 
is quite clear from the literature.i 04 While the Irish, Poles, Italians, 
Jews, and other groups each tended to form its own little ethnic 
enclave, ethnic differences often merged on the basis of both social 
class similarities and time of arrival. Even in the earlier reports, this 
distinguished the Negro from other ethnic groups.^®® Negro residen- 
tial areas tended to be ethnically distinctive and represented a wider 
range of social class positions as a consequence of pervasive discrimi- 
nation in housing. 

Lieberson’s analysis of residential segregation from igio to 1950 
highlights the continuities in these patterns.^®® First, he found lu'gh 
levels of residential segregation among all ethnic groups for all the 
cities studied, with little evident difference between the "old” immi- 
gration (those who predominated prior to 1880) and the "new” 
immigration (those who predominated between 1880 and 1920) . 
They were quite uniformly high. Second, over time, there was a 
gradual dispersion, but as recently as 1950, patterns of residential 
segregation by ethnic group was still evident. Finally, depending on 
time of arrival, there is a gradual dispersion of ethnic groups both in 
diminished rates of segregation and in movement out of the central 
city. While there is some evidence in these and in other data of 
similar patterns among the urban Negro population, rates of residen- 
tial segregation are consistently higher than for any of the immigrant 
ethnic groups, rates of change over time are less clear, and associa- 
tions between residential dispersion and social-class achievements are 
less marked. Thus, although the conclusions from the analysis of 
social mobility suggest that Negro rates of achievement may not be so 
drastically different from those of other earlier ethnic minorities, the 
patterns of housing segregation point to far more severe discrimina- 
tion as an index of opportunity for social assimilation. 

The more recent analyses by Taeuber and Taeuber both confirm 
these findings for the Negro and clarify further the patterns of segre- 
gation that operate.!®’’ As they point out: 

In the urban United States, there is a very high degree of segregation of 
the residences of whites and Negroes. This is true for cities in all regions 
of the country and for all types of cities large and small, industrial and 
commerdal, metropolitan and suburban. It is true whether there are hun- 
dreds of thousands of Negro residents, or only a few thousand. Residential 
segregation prevails regardless of the relative economic status of the ■white 
and Negro residents. It occurs regardless of the character of local laws and 
polides, and regardless of the extent of other forms of segregation or 

146 Deprivation and Migration 

It is quite notable that, in addition to initially hirh lach c- 
segregation benveen 1940 and 1950, the degree of segregation in- 
creased and these increases were fairly evenly spread thromthout t;-- 
country. Indeed, residential segregation of the Negro wasVenenliT 
greater than for other of tlie most recent urban migrants, the Puerto 
Rican or Mexican-American populations. Hots-ever, between 
1960, there was a general decrease in levels of housing segregation ci 
Negroes in cities outside the South. As Table 5-3 indicates, the 

Table 5-3. Changes in Indices of Housing Segregs- 
tion, ip:fo-ig$o and ig^o-ig 6 o, for too 
Cities, by Region 


ipyo-i^ 5 o 


Decreased segregation 



Increased segregation 




Decreased segregation 


Increased segregation 




Decreased segregation 



Increased segregation 




Decreased segregation 



Increased segregation 



From Karl E. Taeuber and Alma F. Taeuber, Regroei in Cititi: 

Residential Segregation and Neighborhood Change (Chicago: Aldine. 


majority of cities in the northeast, north central, and u’estem regions 
e.\perienced decreases in residential segregation of Negroes betsveen 
1950 and i960. In the South, on the otlier hand, the vast majority of 
cities continued to show increased rates of residential segregation for 

IVliat emerges from these data is already clear. Regardless of the 
high and remarkably persistent forms of residential segregation of 
etiinic groups, many of ivhom had established residential patterns in 
these same cities more tlian one hundred years ago, tlie Negro has 
consistently suffered more severe discrimination in housing and has 
been forced into more pervasive forms of residential segregation. 
During tlie decade 1950 to 1960 there was a minor improvement m 
spite of the continued out-migration of whites to the suburbs, a 
factor that tends to increase levels of segregation although it 
makes available better housing for Negroes. This improvement, ho.^ 

147 Marc Fried 

ever, did not occur in the South but was limited to cities in the other 
regions of the country. But even when tliere was a decrease in segre- 
gation, the levels of segregation remained extremely, unconscionably 

Thus, even if one concludes from the analysis of social mobility 
that Negro acitievements have been comparable to those of the white 
immigrants from Europe, educational, occupational, and income im- 
provements have not markedly diminished the manifestation of dis- 
crimination in housing segregation. And while this is only one of 
many forms of discrimination, it is one of the better indicators of 
opportunities for social assimilation. Thus, social mobility for the 
Negro has not led to commensurate, or even reasonably modest, 
changes in equality of opportunity for integrated housing. IVhile 
high levels of segregation in housing have existed for other etlinic 
groups, these appear to have been both less severe in general and 
more responsive to changes in social-class position than they have 
been for the Negro. 


It has become conventional to point out the great gap between the 
achievements of the European immigrants who peopled the United 
States during more than a century between the end of the Napo- 
leonic wars and the first major restrictions on immigration in 1924 
and tire failure of achievement, on the other hand, among Negroes 
whose major entrance into the urban industrial environment started 
around igoo and continues apace. In tlie course of reviewing the 
extensive, albeit inadequate, data concerning social mobility and as- 
similation among both the European immigrants to the cities of this 
country and the Negro migrants from tlie South to the industrialized 
areas of tlie North and West, sve have been forced to challenge this 
conclusion and to reconsider the implications of the melting pot 

It is difficult to draw unambiguous conclusions about the situa- 
tion of either tlie white or tlie black migranL But the data appear to 
provide greater support for a reinterpretation than for the conven- 
tional conception of migratory' movements and social assimilation in 
the United States. IVe have tried to show that the European immi- 
grant most often experienced tlie transition from rural, pre-industrial 
areas and largely agricultural occupations in southern, eastern, and 

148 Deprivation and Migration 

central Europe to the cities and low-status manual occupations in 
United States as an extremely painful, dilEcult, and threateni-- 
process. Immigrants left and continued to leave tlieir native hoa-^ 
because they could look forward to nothing but miseiy- and a dcicria 
rating economic and social situation. The United States offered, a* 
the very least, the possibility of jobs, and no matter how low the va-; 
rates, a higher income than they had previously knotvn. Most imrai- 
grants remained in this country despite the long and often bitter 
struggle to maintain jobs through recurrent depressions, to retain a 
semblance of self-respect in the face of constant derogation of their 
abilities, motivation, family relationships, and their assimilability to 
western cultural values. Although segregated housing kept them resi- 
dentially separated, they were constantly accused of separatism and 
ethnic clannislmess. 

The second generation experienced a less restrictive environ- 
ment but it was far from the myth of unlimited opportunities for 
social mobility and assimilation. It is difficult to determine preciscl) 
how long it took and under what conditions it was possible to gain a 
reasonable approximation to equality of status. But for many ethnic 
groups, full residential assimilation had not yet been realized as late 
as 1950,^0® The relatively rapid social mobility of the English, Jew- 
ish, and Japanese immigrant must, in this view, be treated as one 
extreme of a continuum, although the Jewish and Japanese immi- 
grant suffered a fairly typical history of severe discrimination, restric- 
tion, and ostracism. Educational and occupational mobility and 
cultural parity were not enough to insure social acceptance. And for 
the largest proportion of the immigrants, educational and occupa- 
tional mobility were extremely difficult and unduly costly achieve- 
ments. Thus, the idea of the United States as a melting pot emerges 
as a mythical elaboration of a fragmentary truth and gives way to an 
image of widespread inequality, racist attitudes, and ethnic segre- 
gation as the dominant reality .10® 

By contrast with contemporary views about former immigrants 
(but similar to former conceptions of these same European and An- 
atic immigrants), the conventional view of the black population 
emphasizes extremely slow progress, low motivation for achievemeni, 
and an unwillingness to share in the responsibilities and con- 
comitant rewards of an urban industrial society. Even as searching 
an analysis of the personal and social background of the American 
Negro as Frazier’s emphasized primarily the historically determine 
limitations of the Negro in coping with the urban indusuial en- 

149 Marc Fried 

vironment.iio Over the last few decades, a number of studies have 
delineated some of the other factors involved in the situation of the 
Negro American: the vast migration of Negroes from the pre- 
industrial and racist constraints of the South to the cities of the 
North and West and the ovenvhelming impact of discrimination and 
inequality on occupational and economic achievement among Ne- 
groes.m At the same time, the evidence for quite marked and rapid 
improvements in educational, occupational, and economic achieve- 
ment of Negroes during the last few decades has further eroded the 
conventional vieiv of Negro social immobility and low motivation for 
achievementAi2 indeed, one might well argue that rates of social 
mobility among Negroes have been remarkably high in vie^v of the 
inadequate preparation of the rural southern Negro population who 
form a very large proportion of contemporary urban Negro Ameri- 
cans, the manifest inequality of opportunity, and the potency of a 
heritage and current experience of discrimination. 

That tlie Negro is still far from educational, occupational, or 
economic equality with the white population is, of course, clear 
enough.^i® This is revealed both in cross-sectional comparisons with 
whites and in discrepancies between educational and occupational 
adiievements or between occupational levels and income, discrepan- 
cies that ai-e among the more objective stigmata of discrimination. 
Indeed, similar discrepancies persist for other minorities at higher 
levels of the status system.^i^ It is thus apparent that intense discrim- 
ination continues to operate and is not obliterated by social mobility. 
Not only is each and every advance made slowly and arduously 
against considerable resistance and almost certainly at considerable 
cost, but these advances carry with them only a modest part of the 
rewards tliat might be expected. 

In spite of a real discrepancy in the status achievements associ- 
ated with tliese two great rural-to-urban migrations and the more 
striking discrepancies in other forms of discrimination and inequal- 
ity, the similarities are considerable and portentous: a modern his- 
tory of sendle status and recent emancipation that created an 
opportunity to migrate more readily than it provided a basis for 
economic or social freedom at home; rural origins in pre-industrial 
communities; the absence of any grounds for hope.^^® The meager 
opportunities in the industrialized cities of the United States were 
thus a marked contrast ivith the economic and social vacuum that 
stretched out before them at home. The struggle for education 
against overwhelming odds became a most important channel of mo- 

150 Deprivation and Migration 

bility, and the episodic gains during prosperity were never wholly 
destroyed by periodic depressions and recessions. But discrimination 
segregation, and social rejection were omnipresent for both. Massive 
migrations like these stem from conditions of dire deprivation. Com- 
pared to the resident population of the host society, they eventuate 
in new forms of deprivation and underprivilege. 

But to point up the similarities is far from obliterating the 
differences. While it is possible to speak of the worst features of the 
immigrant experience in the past, the realities of die Negro e.\peri- 
ence are ever present. Certainly the relative deprivation and the 
potency of discrimination are far greater for the Negro tlian those 
experienced by most of the former immigrant populations. It is, more- 
over, not at all clear that these differences are due to a change in the 
economic capacity of our society to absorb newcomers.^^® Nor is 
there adequate evidence that the majority of the European migrants 
were any better prepared to deal with the demands of an urban 
industrial society than the more recent Negro migrants. "While the 
demands of the economy have undoubtedly changed and a higher 
degree of skill is required to fill available job opportunities than was 
the case fifty to one hundred years ago, there is no basis for assuming 
that rapid upgrading of occupational skills is not entirely feasible. 
The fact remains, moreover, that there is a marked discrepancy be- 
tween education and occupation and between occupation and in- 
come among Negroes, which indicates that opportunities are dispro- 
portionately low relative to preparedness. Thus, we can only at- 
tribute the residual problem of Negro achievement to the severity of 

The differences among European and Asian immigrant groups 
and the differences between these immigrants and the situation of the 
Negro provide a basis for subtle analyses of the conditions and proc- 
esses of rural-to-urban transition. But the similarities point up cer- 
tain pervasive and underlying characteristics of our society. Super- 
imposed upon striking social class distinctions that continue to 
function in spite of moderately high rates of social mobility, there 
is a profound rejection of ethnic, cultural, and color differences in 
the United States. Despite the importance of social class as a primar) 
dimension, however, and despite the marked differences in immigra- 
tion experiences and social acceptance associated ivith social-class 
variations, we cannot "wholly subsume other factors within this one 
basis for social categorization. Rather, if we use the term raasm 

151 Marc Fried 

broadly to connote any sharp and pervasive discriminatory behavior 
toward visible and distinguishable ethnic or cultural groups, a wide- 
spread history of racism has marked the trail of the great migrations 
to the cities of the United States for a century and a half. The Negro 
is not only among the most recent but also the most visible of these 
minorities and has had the most severely incapacitating history of 
previous discrimination and caste limitation. These have served fur- 
ther to encourage and rationalize the fundamental inequalities of 
our society in their manifestation toward the Negro American. 

In a different era, when foreign-born immigrants and their chil- 
dren were often viewed as expendable, it was possible to disregard 
their desperate needs for support in facilitating social mobility and 
assimilation. Under different economic conditions, when the econ- 
omy was a captive of the business cycle and its operation less subject 
to deliberate manipulation, it was more difficult to create jobs, edu- 
cational opportunities, or other resources for encouraging rapid 
change. And in an environment in which demands for equality and 
opportunity were more impetuously violent, more fractionated along 
ethnic or occupational lines, less broadly goal-directed, and in which 
a democratic ideology was more limited in conception, it was possible 
to accept police suppression and the power of the national guard or 
of the armed forces as an effective means of eliminating a problem by 
eliminating its manifest expression. All of this has changed. We 
have an unparalleled potential to create a situation in which rates of 
achievement among the Negro population can more nearly approxi- 
mate overt aspirations, needs, and demands.^i'^ Yet, we remain rela- 
tively paralyzed in our focus on short-term goals and in our concern 
with such symptoms as riots rather than with those features of in- 
equality of opportunity that lie beneath these symptoms. 

In the deepest sense, our society must undergo radical institu- 
tional change in order to eliminate widespread racism and the ready 
rejection of ethnic and cultural differences. Our society is certainly 
not unique in its resistance to accepting and integrating great diver- 
sity within the province of legitimacy. But one of the cultural conse- 
quences of the transition from pre-industrial to industrial societies is 
precisely an increased possibility of achieving an open society. Few 
other nations are in so ideal a situation for realizing this potentiality. 
And few other major industrial powers are in so desperate a position 
of choice between recurrent violence, suppressive blindness, or uni- 
versal democracy. Unless we appreciate the fundamental importance 

152 Deprivation and Migration 

of these long-term goals that the rhetoric of the great society pro- 
poses, more modest goals are likely to be too slow and too meacr: 
to offer much hope. 

At a more modest level (but, nonetheless, one requiring more 
drastic change than our society appears trilling to initiate), far- 
reaching economic and social legislation could have a major impact 
Low-status groups have had a long and quite varied history of misen 
and ostracization.118 "Wfiiie the greatest depths of poverty have been 
curtailed in our society and a much larger proportion of the popula- 
tion participates in affluence, the economic gap bettveen the lou'est 
and highest income groups remains enormous and has changed little 
since 1940 and perhaps since tgio.^^® Clearly, in vietv of the dispro- 
portionate number of Negroes in the lowest income groups, a 
diminution of this discrepancy would most drastically affect the Ne- 
gro population, but at the same time would go far in eliminating the 
marked inequalities of economic status in the country as a v-hole. 
Proposals for a guaranteed income move in this direction, but in 
vietv of the large gaps in income at the low-intermediate levels, they 
do not go far enough. A more basic alteration in the entire tax 
structure appears to be one of the only solutions that is pervasive 
enough to create a degree of economic equality commensurate with 
the dream of a great society. 

At the same time, in light of the diverse components of depriva- 
tion, new forms of social legislation are imperative to provide more 
adequately for the aged, the ill-housed, the jobless, and the indigent. 
Each and every form of deprivation more seriously affects the Negro, 
and, thus, far-reaching economic and social changes most directly 
benefit the Negro. But it is only by viewing these problems as societal 
problems that we can hope to achieve the kind of society diat is capa- 
ble of dealing not only with the past but with the present and future. 
While the Negro migration from the South has begun to diminish, it 
is far from attrition. Thus, to the extent that the situation of the Ne- 
gro is sustained by continued migration from the more severe inequal- 
ities of the South, policy must be oriented to continued efforts to 
maximize opportunities and equalities in the industrialized areas of 
the North and West. At the same time, only major changes at the na 
tional level are likely to reduce the severity of Negro underprivileoC 

in the South. 

It is paradoxical that, quite often, it is the deprived, the under 
privileged, and the alienated who most poignandy demonstrate to 
major inadequacies of a society. There are many respects in wm 

153 Marc Fried 

the Negro social revolution of the last few decades has already 
pointed up central issues: the pervasiveness of discrimination, the 
overt and covert forms of inequality of opportunity, the changing 
political structure that requires greater influence from local commu- 
nities, the inadequacies of our educational system except in its most 
privileged sectors, the need for recasting our status system and dimin- 
ishing its consequences, the desperate necessity for a more searching 
and egalitarian ethical consciousness in our social behavior. These 
are problems that affect not only the black person or the individual 
from other minority groups in our society. But it is the black person 
and those from other recent minority groups who suffer most severely 
from these societal failures. 

It is an easy escape to define the problem as if its source lay in 
those who experience the problem most directly and to deal with the 
"Negro problem,” the "poverty problem,” or even the "urban prob- 
lem.” These, however, are simply symptomatic or localized expres- 
sions of broader problems of our society. Only by shifting from tran- 
sitory conceptions to long-term change, from local or focal issues to 
pervasive difficulties, from an expectation of perpetual progress to an 
appreciation of the sporadic nature of gains and the return of peri- 
odic failures, can we hope to achieve a reasonable solution even to 
immediate and pressing problems. These problems, symptoms though 
they be, are expressed most strikingly in the poverty and inequality 
that Negro Americans experience despite a century of individual 
achievements and social change. But the realistic resolution of 
these specific and perhaps temporary "problems” requires that our 
analyses and solutions transcend them and deal with the underlying 
injustice and restrictions that continue to characterize our society. 


1. William E.B. Dubois, The Souls of Black Folks (New York; Avon Library, 

1965) • 

2. Some of the more thorough reports concerning these problems in the 
United States can be found in John R. Commons, Races and Immigrants in 
America (New York: Macmillan, igao) ; Maurice R. Davie, World Immigration 
(New York: Macmillan, 1936) : Robert Ernst, Immigrant Life in New York City, 
1826-186^ (New York: Kings Crown Press, 1949) ; Henry Pratt Fairchild, ed., 
Immigrant Backgrounds (New York: Wiley, 1927) : Oscar Handlin, Boston’s 
Immigrants: A Study m Acculturation, rev. ed. (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard 
University Press, 1959) ; Robert E. Park, The Immigrant Press and Its Control 
(Neiv York: Harper, 1922) : Robert E. Park and Herbert A. Miller, Old World 
Traits Transplanted (New York: Harper, 1921): William Carlson Smith, Amer- 
icans in the Making (New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1939) ; George M. 


154 Deprivation and Migration 

Stephenson, A History of American Immigration, 1820-1524 (Boston- Ginn 
Lloyd W. Warner and Leo Srole, The Social Systems of American Ethnic G^' 
(New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1964) ; Louis AVirth. “The Problem 
Minority Groups,” in Ralph Linton, ed.. The Science of Man in the ITnrW r ■ ■ 
(Nesv York: Columbia University Press, 1945) . 

3. For some of these contrasts, see S.N. Eisenstadt, The Absorption of fa-; 
grants (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1954) and Abraham A. Weinbem .^ii 
gration and Belonging: A Study of Mental Health and Personal Adjustmt.t in 

Israel (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1961) concerning Israel; Peter Mairis, fanih 
and Social Change in an African City (London; Routledge and Kegan Paul 
1961) about Nigeria: Arthur Redford, Labour Migration in England, rSoo-ip-o’ 
rev. ed. (Manchester; Manchester University Press, 1964) concerning England 
during the Industrial Revolution; and Ronald Taft, From Stranger to Citizen 
(Nedlands: University of Western Australia Press, 1964) dealing with in-migraiioa 
to Australia. 

4. Commons, op. cit.; Oscar Handlin, The Newcomers: Negroes and Puerto 
Ricans in a Changing Metropolis (New York; Doubleday, 1959); John Hingham, 
Strangers in the Land: Patterns of American Nativism, 1860-1525, rev. ed. (Xcw 
York; Atheneum, 1963) ; Stephenson, op. cit.; Stephan Themstrom, Poverty and 
Progress: Social Mobility in a Nineteenth Century City (Cambridge, Mass.: 
Haivard University Press, 1964) . 

5. Hingham, op. cit. 

6. Rowland Tappan Berthoff, British Immigrants in Industrial America, 
1550-1550 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1953) . 

7. Hingham, op. cit.; Mack Walker, Germany and the Emigration, iSi6-iSSy 
(Cambridge, Mass.: Hanard University Press, 1964). 

8. Ernst, op. cit.; Oscar Handlin, Boston’s Immigrants, op. cit.; Marcus Lee 
Hansen, The American Migration, 1605-1860 (Nesv York: Harper, 1940) ; Hingham, 
op. cit.; Samuel Joseph, Jewish Immigration to the United States: From 1S81 to :pw 
(New York; Atheneum, 1963); Edss'ard M. Levine, The Irish and Irish Politicians 
(Notre Dame, 111 .; University of Notre Dame Press, 1966); George Potter, To the 
Golden Door: The Study of the Irish in Ireland and America (Boston: Little, 
Brown, i960) ; Smith, op. cit.; Stephenson, op. cit.; William Thomas and Plorian 
Znaniecki, The Polish Peasant in Europe and America (Chicago: Chicago Uni- 
versity Press, 1918; New York: Knopf, 1928) . 

9. Mary Antin, The Promised Land (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1912) ; Con- 
rad M. Arensberg and Solon T. Kimball, Family and Community in Ireland 
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1948) ; Eisenstadt, op. cit.; Ernst, 
op. cit.; Handlin, The Newcomers, op. cit.; Handlin, Boston's Immigrants, op. cit.; 
Hansen, op. cit.; Joseph, op. cit.; Park and Miller, op. cit.; Smith, op. cit.; Stephen- 
son, op. cit.; Phyllis H. Williams, South Italian Folkways in Europe and America 
(New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1938) . 

10. Gordon W. Allport, Jerome S. Bruner, and E. M. Jahndorf, "Personality 
Under Social Catastrophe," Character and Personality, X (1941) , 1-22; Eleanor H. 
Bemert and Ted C. Ikle, “Evacuation and the Cohesion of Urban Groups,’ Amer- 
ican Journal of Sociology, LVII (1952) , 133-138. Marc Fried, "Grieving for a 
Lost Home,” in Leonard J. Duhl, ed.. The Urban Condition (New York; Basic 
Books, 1963) ; Chester Hartman, "The Housing of Relocated Families," Journa 
of the American Institute of Planners, XXX (1964) , 266-286; Lewis G. Watts, 
Howard E. Freeman, Helen M. Hughes, Robert Morris, and Thomas F. Pettigrw* 
The Middle-Income Negro Family Faces Urban Renewal (Waltham, Mass.: Re- 
search Center of the Florence Heller School, Brandeis University, 1964); Mitua 
Young and Peter Wilmott, Family and Kinship in East London (London; Rout- 
ledge and Kegan Paul, 1937) . 

11. Robert F. Foerster, The Italian Emigration of Our Times (Cambridge, 
Mass.: Harv'ard University Press, igig) ; Harry Jerome, Migration and Susine^ 
Cycles, Publication No. g (New York: National Bureau of Economic Resear . 
1926) ; Thomas and Znaniecki, op. cit.: U.S. Immigration Commission, Vol. 


133 Marc Fried 

12. Estimates based on tables in Brinley Thomas, Migration and Economic 
Growth: A Study of Great Britain and the Atlantic Economy (Cambridge: Cam- 
bridge University Press, 1954) . 

ig. Thomas, op. cit. 

14. Emily Greene Balch, Our Slavic Fellow Citizens (New York: Charities 
Publications Committee, 1910) ; Ernst, op. cit.; Foerster, op. cit.; Handlin, 
Boston’s Immigrants, op. cit.; Oscar Handlin, The Uprooted (Boston: Little, 
Brown, 1951) ; Handlin, The Newcomers, op. cit.; Hansen, op. cit.; Potter, op. cit.; 
Stephenson, op. cit.; Thomas, op. cit.; Thomas and Znaniecki, op. cit.; Walker, 
op. cit.; Cecil Woodham-Smith, The Great Hunger: Ireland iS^y-iS^p (New York: 
Harper, 1962) . 

15. Balch, op. cit.; Grace Leybum, "Urban Adjustments from the Southern 
Appalachian Plateaus," Social Forces, XVI (1937) , 238-246; George C. Myers, 
"Migration and Modernization: The Case of Puerto Rico, 1950-1960,” Sociological 
and Economic Studies, XVI (1967), 425-431; Bedford, op. cit. 

16. Berthoff, op. cit.; Charlotte Erickson, American Industry and the Euro- 
pean Immigrant (1860-1885) (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1957) . 
Bedford, op. cit.; Thomas, op. cit. 

17. Richard Day, "The Economics of Technological Change and the Demise of 
the Sharecropper,” American Economic Review, LVH (1967) , 437-449. 

18. Handlin, The Uprooted, op. cit. 

ig. Hansen, op. cit. 

20. Balch, op. cit. 

21. Ibid. 

22. Foerster, op. at. 

23. Walker, op. cit. 

24. Berthoff, op. cit.; Bedford, op. cit. 

25. Rashi Fein, "Educational Patterns in Southern Migration,” Southern 
Economics Journal, XXXII (1965), 106-124: C, Horace Hamilton, "Educational 
Selectivity of Migration from Farm to Urban and to Other Non-farm Com- 
munities,” in Mildred Kantor, ed.. Mobility and Mental Health (Springfield, 111.: 
Charles C Thomas, 1965; W. Parker Mauldin, "Selective Migration from Small 
Towns,” American Sociological Review, V (1940) , 748-766. 

26. The most systematic data and the most sophisticated analyses in support 
of this view are collected by Thomas, op. cit. The earlier study of migration and 
business cycles by Jerome, op. cit., comes to an opposite view, but the data he 
provides are clearly inadequate to the burden he places on them. In particular, 
he tries to evaluate the conditions of emigration without adequate emigration 
statistics (using emigration to the United States rather than total emigration 
from the country of origin) , without an adequate evaluation of the complex 
factors associated with economic expansion and deterioration other than the 
depression-prosperity cycle, and with far more adequate indices of these limited 
variables for the United States than for the countries of origin. 

27. Jerome, op. cit. 

28. Hansen, op. cit.; Walker, op. cit. 

ag. Simon Kuznets, Dorothy Stvaine Thomas, et al.. Population Distribution 
and Economic Growth: United States, iSjo-ipyo (Philadelphia: American Philo- 
sophical Society, 1964) . 

30. Ira S. Lowry, Migration and Metropolitan Growth: Two Analytic Models 
(San Francisco: Chandler, 1966). 

31. Jerome's (op. cit.) analysis does try to take account of both countries of 
origin and countries of destination, but does not consider migration from a 
country of origin to any other than the United States. As a consequence, the 
relative importance of economic changes in the United States is bound to weigh 
heavily in his statistical analysis. By contrast Thomas (op. cit.) more systemati- 
cally considers the process of emigration from the vantage point of the country of 
origin and immigration from the vantage point of the country of destination 
and arrives at a more complex conclusion about the conditions under which 
either set of forces tends to predominate as a determinant of migration. 

157 Marc Fried 

48. Christen Tonnes Jonassen, "Cultural Variables in the Ecology of an 
Ethnic Group,” American Sociological Review, XIV (1949) , 32-41. 

49. Nathan Glazer and Daniel P. Moynihan, Beyond the Melting Pot: The 
Negroes, Puerto Ricans, Jews, Italians and Irish of New York Cit) (Cambridge, 
Mass.: Harvard and M.I.T. Press, 1963) . See Hingham, op. cit., for a description 
of some of the recurrent waves of anti-Semitism that led to many of the quota 
systems, residential restrictions, and recreational exclusions during the anti- 
foreign outbreaks of the igaos and have begun to diminish only during the past 
few decades. 

50. Calvin F. Schmid and Charles E. Nobbe, "Socioeconomic Differentials 
Among Nonwhite Races,” American Sociological Review, XXX (1965), 909-922. 

51. Glazer and Moynihan, op. cit.; Handlin, The Newcomers, op. cit. 

52. Thomas, op. cit. (Table 40) . 

53. Lieberson, op. cit. (Tables 52 and 54) . 

54. Glazer and Moynihan, op. cit.; Handlin, Boston’s Immigrants, op. cit.; 
Potter, op. cit.; Thomas, op. cit.; Woodham-Smith, op. cit. 

55. Lieberson, op. cit. (Tables 52 and 54) . 

56. Thomas, op. cit. (Table 40) : Lieberson, ibid. 

57. David Brody, Steelworkers in America: The Nonunion Era (Cambridge, 
Mass.: Harvard University Press, i960) . 

58. Lieberson, op. cit. 

59. Henry S. Shryock, Jr., Population Mobility Within the United States 
(Chicago: Community and Family Study Center, 19G4) . 

60. Richard C. Wade, The Urban Frontier: The Rise of Western Cities, 
tygo-iSyo (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1959). 

6 1. Kuznets and Thomas, op. cit. 

62. Shrjock, op. cit. 

63. Joseph A. Hill, "Recent Northward Migration of the Negro,” Monthly 
Labor Review, XVIII (1924) , 1-14. 

64. Ibtd. 

65. Thomas Jackson Woofter, Negro Migration: Changes in Rural Organiza- 
tion and Population of the Cotton Belt (New York: Gray, 1920) . 

66. Philip M. Hauser, "Demographic Factors in the Integration of the Negro,” 
Daedalus (Fall 1965) ; Conrad Taeuber and Irene B. Tacuber, The Changing 
Population of the United States (New York: Wiley, 1958) gite somewhat divergent 
figures, suggesting a more marked decline in the Negro population of the South 
between i8go and 1910. 

67. Kuznets and Thomas, op. cit. 

68. Ibid. 

69. Taeuber and Taeuber, The Changing Population of the United States, 
op. cit. 

70. Shryock, op. cit. 

71. Ibid.; Tacuber and Taeuber, The Changing Population of the United 
States, op. cit. 

72. Redford, op. cit., demonstrates this phenomenon for Britain in the nine- 
teenth century. 

73. The dassical study that postulated the greater inadequacy of migrants 
compared to nonmigrants as the critical selective factor leading to high rates of 
mental disorder among migrants is that of Omulv Odegaard, "Emigration and 
Insanity: A Study of Mental Disease Among tlie Nonvegian Bom Population of 
Minnesota," Acta Psychiatrica et Neurologica (1932) , Supplement 4. For more 
recent reinterpretations of migration and mental illness, see H. B. M. Murphy, 
"Migration and the Major Mental Disorders,” in Kantor, op. cit. and .Marc Fried, 
"Effects of Social Change on Mental Health,” American Journal of Orthopsy- 
chiatry, XXXIV (1964) , 3-2S. 

74. Otis Dudley Duncan and Beverly Duncan, The Negro Population of 
Chicago: A Study of Racial Succession (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 
• 957 ) ! Mauldin, op. cit. 

158 Deprivation and Migration 

75. Duncan and Duncan, ibid. 

76. Hamilton, op. cit.; Fein, op. cit. 

77. Taeuber and Taeuber, Negroes in Cities, op. cit. 

78. Karl E. Taeuber and Alma F. Taeuber, "The Changing Chaiaaer o£ 
Negro Migration," American Journal of Sociology, LXX (1964), 419-441. 

79. Taeuber and Taeuber, Negroes in Cities, op. cit. The cities from digeitm 
regions for rvhich the more detailed analyses are presented are: South: Atlanta 
Birmingham, Memphis, Netv Orleans; Border: Baltimore, St. Louis, Washington- 
North: Cleveland, Detroit, Philadelphia. 

So. Taeuber and Taeuber, Negroes in Cities, op. cit. 

81. Arensberg and Kimball, op. cit. 

82. Kuznets and Thomas, op. cit. 

83. Handlin, The Newcomers, op. cit.; Gilbert Osofsky, Harlem: The Making 
of a Ghetto (New York: Harper, 1966) . 

84. St. Clair Drake and Horace R. Cayton, Black Metropolis; A Study 0] 
Negro Life in a Northern City (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1945) ; Osofsky, op. 
cit.; Jacob A. Riis, How the Other Half Lives (New York: Sagamore Press, 1957). 

85. Lipset and Bendix, op. cit.; Lloyd \V. IVamer and Leo Srole, The Social 
Systems of American Ethnic Groups (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 
1945) ; Tliemstrom, op. cit.; S. M. Miller, “Comparative Social Mobility,” Current 
Sociology, IX (1960) , Chapter 1; Peter M. Blau and Otis Dudley Duncan, “Some 
Preliminar-y Findings on Social Stratification in the United States,” Acta Sociolog- 
ica, IX (1965) I a-24; Sidney Goldstein, "Migration and Occupational Mobility in 
Norristou'n, Pennsylvania,” American Sociological Review, XX (1935), 402-448. 

86. IVhether these rates are viewed as high or lotv is dependent on (a) sub- 
jective expectations or (b) the application of a linear model of mobility to a 
criterion population (for example, native white Americans) . Both of these bases 
for evaluation are, at best, inadequate for a clear understanding of complex 
mobility patterns. 

87. Themstrom, op. cit. 

88. James Tobin, "On Improving the Economic Status of the Negro," 
Daedalus (Fall 1965) . 

8g. Nathan Hare, "Recent Trends in the Occupational Mobility of Negroes, 
1930-1960: An Intracohort Analysis,” Social Forces, XLIV (1965) ■ 166-173. 

go. Philip M. Hauser, "Demographic Factors in the Integration of the Negro, 
Daedalus (Fall 1965). 

91. Ibid. 

92. IVilliam G. Spady, “Educational Mobility and Access: Growth and Para- 
doxes,” American Journal of Sociology, LXXIII (1967) • 273-286. 

93. Hauser, op. cit. 

94. Lyle Shannon and Patricia Morgan, “The Prediction of Economic Absorp- 
tion and Cultural Integration Among Mexican Americans, Negroes and Anglos m 
a Northern Industrial Community,” Human Organization, XXV (196Q , 

95. Joe L. Russell, "Changing Patterns of Employment of Nomvhite Workers, 
Monthly Labor Review, L.’XX.'Kl^ (1966) , 503-509. 

96. Elnar Hardin, “FuU Employment and IVorkers’ Education,” Monthly 

Labor Review, XVIII (1967) , 21-25; Denis F. Johnston and Han-ey R. Hamel, 
"Educational Attainment of Workers in March 1965,” Monthly Labor Review, 
LXXXIX (1966) , 250-257; Russell, op. cit. . 

97. Gunnar Myrdal, Challenge to Affluence (Nesv York: Pantheon, ^19 27 • 

g8. U.S. Bureau of the Census, Social and Economic Conditions of hegroes 

in the United States, Current Population Reports, October 1967. _ „ 

99. Rashi Fein, “An Economic and Social Profile of the American Negro, 

Daedalus (Fall 1965) ; Johnston and Hamel, op. cit. nr 1 hv 

100. Roy L. Lassiter, "The Association of Income and Education for M es y 
Region, Race and Age,” Southern Economics Journal, XXXII (i9®5) > 

101. Blau and Duncan, op. cit. _ _ - - -i r 

102. Blau and Duncan’s (pp. cit.) report that occupational mobility is 
among native-born svhites and foreign-bom whites and in contrast with nona 1 

159 Marc Fried 

does not substantially affect this conclusion. A very large proportion of the 
foreign-bom whites who ivere still in the labor force in 1962, the year in which 
their data svere collected, represented a wholly different migration from the 
European immigration of 1830-1920. Not only was there a different ethnic com- 
position from the earlier migrations as a result of the immigration quotas, but 
the countries from which they came and the conditions under which many of 
them migrated involved much greater experience with urban, industrial society. 
In comparing the earlier immigrants with the Negro, we have been trying to 
assess tlie differences among groups with similar origins (eitlier by birth or 
parentage) in rural, agricultural societies. 

103. Riis, op. cit. 

104. Handlin, The Newcomers, op. cit.; Riis, op. at.; Robert A. AVoods, Amer- 
icans in Process (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1902) . 

105. Osofsky, op. cit.; Riis. op. cit. 

106. Lieberson, op. cit. 

107. Taeuber and Taeuber, Negroes in Cities, op. cit., p. 36. 

loS. Schmid and Nobbe (op. cit.) present interesting data for several non- 
white ethnic groups. The Chinese situation is of particular significance because 
Chinese immigration was more forcibly cut off (in 18S2) than that of any other 
nationality. For the Chinese, svhose immigration occurred largely betsvcen 1830 
and 1S82, meaningful equivalence to white American statuses in education, occu- 
pation, and income was not established until 1930-1940, one hundred years after 
tlie beginning, and fifty years after the end, of large-scale immigration. 

log. For a different view of the term "racism" and its utility, see Daniel R. 
Mo)’nihan, "The New Racialism," Atlantic Monthly, CCXXII (19OS), 35-40. 
Mojnihan argues tliat the term “racialism" is more appropriate to the current 
situation ivhich is largely a matter of one group's antagonism touard another 
group with conflicting interests. 

110. E. Franklin Frazier, The Negro Family in the United States (Chicago: 
University of Chicago Press, 1939) . 

111. For e.xample, Blau and Duncan, op. cit.; Fein, "An Economic and Social 
Profile of the American Negro," op. cit.; Dorothy K. Neuman, "The Negro’s Jour- 
ney to the City — Part II,” Monthly Labor Review, LXXXVIII {1965) , G44-649. 

118. Blau and Duncan, op. cit.; Hardin, op. cit.; Hare, op. cit.; Dorothy K. 
Newman, "The Negro’s Journey to the City — Part I,” Monthly Labor Review, 
LXXXVIII (1965) , 502-507; Russell, op. cit.; Spady, op. cit. 

113. Blau and Duncan, op. cit.; Fein, "An Economic and Social Profile of the 
American Negro," op. cit.; Ncivman, "The Negro’s Journey to the City — Part II," 
op. cit. 

114. Schmid and Nobbe, op. cit. 

115. It is easy to foiget the fact that, for many of the countries most mark- 
edly affected by massive migrations, serfdom iras abolished in the nineteenth 
century: Italy, Germany, Russia, Poland, Austria. AVhile tlie Jeivs and Irish svere 
not, literally, serfs, their sen-ile status and the constraints imposed on their lives 
u’erc perhaps even more severe. 

116. National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders, 196S; see Themstrom 
(op. a't.) for a discussion of tlie "blocked mobilit)-” hypothesis and the evidence 
tliat over-all rates of upivard social mobility from the loivest ranks have probably 
increased over time. 

117. Stanley Lieberson and Glenn V. Fuguitt, "Negro-AVhite Occupational 
Differences in the Absence of Discrimination,” American Journal of Sociology, 
LXXHI (1967), 18S-200, point out that, in the absence of discrimination, tivo 
generations u'ould bring about a high level of parity in the status of Negroes and 
u’hites. In rieiv of tlie high levels of aspiration and motivation among Negroes, 
appropriate policy might conceive this as the lou-est possible limit. 

118. Romuald Zaniewski, L'Origine du Proletariat Romain et Contemporain 
(Lous-ain: Editions Nauwelaerts, 1967) . 

119. Gabriel Kolko, Wealth and Power in America (New York: Praeger, 

chapter 6 

^ Poverty in Historical Perspective 


In the early ig6os, Americans suddenly rediscovered poverty, and 
attention again turned to the unhappy lot of those eking out an 
existence in "the other America." But the critics who defined the 
issue and prodded the public conscience, certain that the situation 
of the contemporary poor was in many tvays unprecedented, were 
convinced that theirs was more a discovery tlian a rediscover)’. The 
poverty of the sixties was distinctive, they argued, because in the past 
"the immigrant saw poverty as a temporary state and looked fonvard 
to the day when he or his children could gain a greater access to 
opportunity and financial resources. The poor of today are more 
inclined to regard poverty as a permanent way of life with little hope 
for themselves or their children. This change in the outlook of the 
poor can be explained by changes in tlie opportunity structure. ^ 
You can easily fill in the rest for yourself. The poor of old had 
aspirations; the poor today do not. The poor of old had a culture; 
the poor today have only a "culture of poverty.” The poor once had 
political machines that protected them; now they have only social 
workers who spy on them. And the crucial contrast, from which so 
much else follows: The poor were once on the lotvest rungs of a 
ladder most of them could ultimately climb; the poor today are a 
fixed underclass, a permanent proletariat. 

A compelling image, this, but is it true? One of the aims of this 

This chapter was prepared for a seminar of the American Academy of 
Sciences, and all rights to it are reserved by the Academy. It has been publisneo in 
a shorter form in the January-February ig68 issue of Dissent and in 
Lamer and Irving Howe, eds.. Poverty, a View from The Left (New so 
Morrow, 1968) . 

161 Stephan Thernstrom 

chapter is to answer that question. A related, but broader, aim is to 
demonstrate the necessity of examining in proper historical perspec- 
tive some of the complex issues involved in current controversies over 
the poverty problem. Much of the literature dealing with present-day 
poverty bristles with large unsubstantiated assumptions about the 
past. Beyond that simple failure to take into account relevant por- 
tions of the historical record, there has been an error that is more 
difficult to describe: a failure to think about poverty in dynamic, or 
longitudinal, terms; a failure to conceive it as a status that people 
enter and leave over time, a status of which the social meaning de- 
pends, in considerable measure, on the patterns that govern entry 
into, persistence in, and exit from the status. Thus, a contemporary 
study that estimates that lo per cent, let us say, of the citizens in a 
given society are living in poverty may mean that everyone in the 
society is impoverished for part, but only part, of his life — the 
graduate-student poverty model, let us call it — or it may mean that 
10 per cent of the citizens are born poor, live poor, and die poor, with 
no one else ever experiencing deprivation. Obviously, the policy 
problems posed by these two extreme cases and the solutions that 
might make sense differ radically. As will be shown later, the massive 
volume of research that has been conducted on poverty in present- 
day America provides dismayingly little information about this cru- 
cial dimension of the phenomenon. For these reasons, it should be 
worthwhile to sketch what we presently know about w’hat changes 
there have been over the past century in the nature, extent, and, 
particularly, the permanence of poverty for individual Americans. 

We cannot examine the changing fortunes of the poor in the 
American past ivithout specifying clearly what ive mean by poverty, 
and that, as several of the chapters in tliis volume make clear, is no 
simple task. Poverty has been viewed as a state of mind, a state of the 
pocketbook, and a good many other related, but distinct, things. 
There is, however, one simplifying element for the historian. The 
poor left but a vague imprint on the historical record; much of what 
we would like to know about them is irrevocably lost. The enormous 
gaps in the surviving records are highly frustrating, but this defect 
has at least one modest compensating virtue. The problem of defini- 
tion is Jiot quite as agonizing as it would otherwise be because the 
clioices are limited, and we must perforce content ourselves with a 
rough-and-ready definition appropriate to the available data. Per- 
haps a conception of “the culture of poverty" like that of Oscar Lewis 

162 Poverty in Historical Perspective 

is intellectually more satisfying than other current alternatives 
perhaps not, but in any event little can be said about whefe 
Lewis's culture of poverty is growing or slirinking, whether those who 
live in it today are better off or worse off than in the past, because the 
scanty historical record provides few clues on which to make such a 
judgment. Lewis and his assistants gather mountains of material in 
extensive interviews and describe the culture of poverty in terms o{ 
“some seventy interrelated social, economic and psychological traits” 2- 
the historian of the common people must rest content with informa- 
tion on a few crude characteristics like occupation, ethnic background, 
literacy, and place of residence. But something meaningful can be 
said about poverty in the past even on the basis of these slender 
fragments. As defined in this chapter, the poor are those who occupy 
the lowest level of the social pjTamid, as measured by occupa- 
tional rank and command over economic resources, and the central 
question for analysis is the height and permeability of the barrier 
that sets them off from the rest of society. 

This will become clearer if we come down to cases. By the mid- 
dle of the last century the economic and social processes that shaped 
urban industrial America were operating; something resembling 
the modern city had appeared, with its factories, slums, immigrants, 
and other characteristic features.® Let us look for a moment at the 
situation of the poor in one of those cities, Newburyport, Massachu- 
setts, a small textile and shoe manufacturing city.* After combing 
through census schedules, tax lists, savings bank records, and other 
sources that provide clues about the welfare of ordinary people, the 
first impression is that the entire working class lived barely above, if 
not actually below, the margin of subsistence. It is this that contem- 
porary writers have in mind when they contrast the mass poverty of 
yesterday with the class poverty of today. Certainly if we projected 
backward some contemporary "poverty line" — ^?g,ooo annual income 
in i960 dollars or whatever — every workingman (and virtually all 
people in middle-class jobs, for that matter) would appear desper- 
ately poor. 

The absurdity of this is evident. Obviously, we need a more 
relative and situational definition of poverty, one which divides the 
poor from the nonpoor according to criteria meaningful in the par- 
ticular historical setting under consideration. Two such critena are 
available. There was, first of all, an occupational structure that 
placed individuals in different social categories. Men who held non 

163 Stephan Thernstrom 

manual jobs — professionals, business proprietors or managers, clerks, 
and salesmen — were not poor in the sense in which I use the term; 
nor were the skilled artisans of the community, who earned much 
higher wages than their unskilled or semiskilled brethren, enjoyed 
greater job security, had solid families, characteristically owned their 
own homes, and so on. The size of this latter group, the skilled labor 
aristocracy, varied somewhat from place to place; it included half of 
the manual laborers in Newburyport, but was large enough to be 
important in every city. 

Neither the skilled workers nor most white-collar employees were 
entirely immune from economic hardship in time of depression; at 
times, some were forced to turn to private or public charity for tem- 
porary assistance. Some analysts make dependency the definitive 
characteristic of the poor, but this is misleading. To be temporarily 
dependent did not relegate a man to the bottom of the social ladder; 
the deserving poor, the respectable poor, were not a group sharply set 
apart. It was the mass of unskilled and semiskilled workmen, for 
whom unemployment and privation were a way of life, who were 
seen as different and dangerous. It was the perpetuation of their way 
of life that William Ellery Channing had in mind when he warned of 
the "fatal inheritance of beggary.” •* A very useful index of the persist- 
ence of poverty in this setting, therefore, is the degree to which 
people on the lowest rungs of the occupational ladder actually re- 
mained fixed there over the course of their careers and the degree to 
which their children gravitated toward those same lowly callings. 
Movement into a higher ranked occupation, into a white-collar post 
or a skilled trade, was escape from poverty. 

This is not to say that all those unskilled and semiskilled labor- 
ers who found no avenues of occupational mobility open to them 
were desperately and uniformly poor. There was a second key deter- 
minant of status that must be considered, for holding a lowly occupa- 
tion did not impose a single style of life on all who held it. One can 
be a casual laborer or a garbage collector and still own one’s own 
home, possess a savings account, go to church, and display the other 
traits we associate with stable working-class culture.® One can, and a 
great many workmen did in Newburyport a century or so ago. The 
central question to ask is not how many of the untutored newcomers 
who poured into the burgeoning cities of this period made it by becom- 
ing lawyers, clerks, or even carpenters; nor is it how many of their 
sons made it in this fashion, interesting though both of these questions 

164 Poverty in Historical Perspective 

zre. The main issue is ho-.v many became pan of stable ■sccrline<l,'tv 
culture, an achievement that ts-as possible '.without anv upicaru occ;;- 
pational mobility at all. 

It is not eas)- to provide an operational definition of st.aM; 
working-class culture, not at least in terms of operations tl’.c his- 
torian can perform witli the sketchy data avaibbk. Pan for 
nineteenth-centur)- Xewburyport, a satisfactor)- index seas a fannh's 
property holdings as reflected in savings accounts and real-estate pur- 
chases, To tvhat extent was poverty in the industrial city a ccinurv 
ago, as defined by occupational rank and property holdings, a penna- 
nent status? Of all of the unskilled laboring families in Ncwinirs- 
port, only a modest fraction eitlier of fathers or of sons escaped into 
the white-collar world, and a similarly modest fraction of men from 
either generation succeeded in entering a skilled calling. But even 
though these laborers remained overwhelmingly concentrated in lore- 
skilled occupations, rvith wages in the vicinity of $1.50 a day and 
frequent uneraplojment, the great preponderance of those reho 
stayed in the city at all were able to climb into the ranks of the 
property-owning, stable working class. Most of them bought their 
own homes, most of them built up savings accounts with a few hun- 
dred dollars in them. These were people at the bottom of the occupa- 
tional ladder, with unstable employment opportunities and stann- 
tion wages. But stable social patterns can exist despite unstable 
market conditions. 

Two tilings that made this extraordinar)’ acliievcment possible 
should be noted because tliey have an obvious bearing on the situa- 
tion of the poor today. First, children were an economic asset; in the 
typical instance, all the children who reached the age of ten or twelve 
were put into the mills and their pooled earnings ivent to purcJiase 
the dwelling. There are some revealing figures for a statewide sample 
of unskilled laborers in Massachusetts in 1874: the mean annual 
wage of these family heads was a mere $414, but this w’as only 57 per 
cent of the mean annual income of the family unit as a ivhole.' Of 
course this exploitation of child labor also had important implica- 
tions for the mobility prospects of the children; it virtually removed 
them from the competition for middle-class jobs. 

The second enabling circumstance was that these people appear 
to have lived in a tight little island of their own, insulated from the 
tastes and standards of the larger community and the society as a 
•whole. This svas especially true of the Irish workingmen, who tvere 
highly visible — they had their own religious and social institutions, 

165 Stephan Thernstrom 

distinctive names, and so on — but it was to some degree true of the 
rural migrants from New Hampshire and Vermont as well. One indi- 
cation of this is that while many of these families had a total com- 
bined income that hovered around the minimum subsistence budgets 
carefully calculated by contemporary middle-class investigators, they 
still managed to save. Their conception of subsistence was far more 
Spartan — it was potatoes! And their subculture had given them a 
goal that was clear and rvithin reach — a piece of property, a piece of 
respectability tliat made all those potatoes tolerable. 

If those who stayed in the town characteristically made it into 
the stable working class even without occupational gains, what of 
those who left the community? They, after all, were a majority; only 
40 per cent of the unskilled laborers in Newburyport in 1850 were 
still there when the census taker made his rounds a decade later, and 
the comparable figures for i860 to 1870 are 35 per cent and for 1870 
to 1880, 47 per cent. These are strikingly high turnover figures, of 
course, and they cannot be attributed to the peculiar volatility of 
the Irish; breaking down out-migration rates by nativity reveals 
that the Yankees tvere a wandering breed, too, more wandering than 
the Irish in the last of the three decades studied. 

This finding suggested the obvious possibility that relatively 
small industrial communities like Newburyport skimmed off certain 
types of people from the migratory streams that entered them — 
perhaps the more stable, docile, unadventuresome souls — and that in 
a full-fledged metropolis like Boston you might see a very different 
pattern. Presumably, disproportionate numbers of the highly tal- 
ented and ambitious would be drawn to the metropolis and would 
settle down there. And the same would be true for the opposite 
extreme — the people least able to settle into the confining regimen of 
life in a small Yankee city, those who for one reason or another had 
failed to make a go of it in the Newburyports of America and who 
could huddle together in a big-city proletarian ghetto. When I began 
research on Boston, I was especially interested in tracking these peo- 
ple to their lairs, for here, if anywhere, was a culture of poverty 
within industrial America, here would be what David Matza calls 
“the dregs,” the sediment from the mobility process.® 

After tracing some eight thousand residents of Boston through 
census schedules, city directories, and tax records from i88o to 1963, 1 
now strongly doubt the existence of these permanent proles — or, 
more accurately, doubt their continuity in any one place over time.® 

166 Poverty in Historical Perspective 

One expects to find that workingmen in Boston will stay put far 
more than they did in Newburyport, both for the reason I have 
mentioned (the likelihood that failures would cluster together in the 
big city slums) and for the additional reason that you can do a lot to 
satisfy an impulse to move and still remain within the boundaries of 
a big city — you can go from the North End of Boston to Jamaica 
Plain, for example, which surely is as far in social distance as the 
journey from Newburyport to Boston. This is a highly plausible ex- 
pectation, but it turns out not to be the case, or not to be very much 
the case. For in the post-1880 decades on which I have comparable 
information, the unskilled and semiskilled workmen of Boston exhib- 
ited only a little moi'e stability than they did in Newburyport earlier, 
with rates of persistence within the city approaching 50 per cent for 
each of these ten-yeai' periods — ^liigher than Newburyport, but not 
dramatically higher. What these figures mean is that before you even 
consider what happens to the people who stay around town, you 
must realize that they are a selection from total population you 
started with. If half of the people who are unskilled and impover- 
ished in 1880 simply disappear from tire universe of the study — as 
indeed they do — ^you cannot talk about the experiences of the re- 
maining half as if they were the only people of concern. 

What did happen to all these migrants who left the community? 
Some of them, of course, left this life altogether, but it is easy to show 
that death was not a prime exit for the age groups with which I was 
dealing. Some were lost because of errors in the sources (city direc- 
tories and tax records) , name changes, etc., but again these were 
minor influences. Most just left. Where they went, and what kind of 
adjustment they made there, I regret to say, cannot be discerned. 
The data for systematic study of these questions just do not exist. 

There are, however, two general conclusions of interest to draw 
from these findings about population turnover. One is that it prob- 
ably will be difficult to find in any American city of the past and 
this, unhappily, is just about the only unit you can study until 
the age of national samples — a lai'ge lower-class group widi high 
continuity of individual membership. Like Newburyport, even a 
great city like Boston seems to have been a Darwinian jungle in 
which ruthless natural selection took place. The people ■who remain 
conveniently under our microscope to be observed tend to be making 
it; if they weren’t, they would be less likely to stay on the scene. 

Second, while we don’t really know what later happened to the 

167 Stephan Thernstrom 

mass of workmen who disappeared from Newburyport or Boston — it 
is possible that many of them fared much better elsewhere — it may be 
that they constituted a permanently depressed underclass, a floating 
body of permanent transients buffeted about from place to place 
until they died. I don’t know that, of course; I’m not even sure about 
ho^v to go about finding historical evidence that would permit us to 
pin down the matter. From the 1870s on, there was public discussion 
of the problem of the tramp, and later there were useful studies of 
migratory labor, the Wobblies, etc. But I have in mind a broader 
phenomenon, and one in which entire families participated, rather 
than just isolated individuals or fathers who left their families be- 
hind in the home city and made forays out into the world for tempo- 
rary jobs. 

It is not clear how many of the poor in America today are like- 
wise permanent transients. There is a popular stereotype that low- 
status individuals tend to be rooted in one place, while professionals, 
managers, etc. are constantly being transferred from one community 
to another, but the actual situation is more complex. The very lim- 
ited census data available suggest that professionals are indeed more 
volatile than the population as a whole, but that very low status 
manual laborers also display unusually high turnover rates.^® Fur- 
thermore, recent critical work on the reliability of the census suggests 
substantial enumeration errors for the floating urban lower class, 
which may lead to an underestimation of its actual volatility.^^ In 
any case, the main issue is not whether the poor are a little more or a 
little less volatile residentially than more well-to-do Americans, for it 
appears that virtually all categories of American city-dwellers have a 
high propensity to keep moving. The point is that physical move- 
ment has different causes and consequences for different social strata 
and that in the lower reaches of the social order it may still have the 
pathological significance it appears to have had in the nineteenth 

What of the low-skilled workmen who did remain in Boston for 
a decade or more, and what of their children? There are a great 
many ways to go about answering that question, and many complica- 
tions in the patterns that I’ve been able to ascertain so far, but the 
crude generalization I would offer is that the chances of rising in the 
world were rather impressively high and that they remained pretty 
much the same between 1880 and 1963. There were some fluctua- 

168 Poverty in Historical Perspective 

tions, with the World War I decade very good and the 1930s not so 
good, but no clear long-term trend indicating a sharp constriction of 
opportunity and the appearance of a new permanent underclass. 

The prospects for one important kind of mobility — ^intragenera- 
tional or “career” occupational mobility — can be gauged by some 
statistics showing the relationship between the first-known occupa- 
tion and the last-known occupation of adult males in three samples— 
one drawn from the manuscript-census schedules for 1880, one from 
marriage-license records for 1910, one from 1930 birth certificates. Of 
the men who began as unskilled or semiskilled laborers, between 35 
and 40 per cent, a very large minority, ended up higher on the 
occupation scale. Seventeen per cent ended as skilled craftsmen in 
the 1880 cohort, 2 1 per cent in the 1910 cohort, and 26 per cent in the 
1930 cohort; the fraction entering white-collar positions iras higher 
in each cohort — 22 per cent, 28 per cent, and so per cent respectively. 
Even if occupational mobility had been the only means of climbing 
off the bottom and entering the stable working class or the middle 
class — and, as I have suggested, there tvere other means — you could 
not describe this social structure as rigid and closed. 

The kind of mobility that has attracted more popular and more 
scholarly attention is intergenerational mobility, reflecting the old 
American belief that the adults can go to hell so long as you do 
something to rescue the kids. The figures that best give a sense of the 
magnitude of social mobility between generations are these. Of the 
sons of men holding unskilled or semiskilled jobs in Boston, 55 to 65 
per cent ended up in higher status occupations, most of them middle- 
class occupations. The figures for entry into white-collar jobs are 40 
per cent for boys coming of age around 2900, 46 per cent for those 
coming of age around 2920, and 38 per cent for men ■who were 33 in 
2963. (For a variety of reasons too complicated to enumerate, it is 
doubtful that the drop from 46 to 38 per cent reflects a genuine 
trend.) In addition to this striking mobility out of the blue-collar 
world altogether, another substantial fraction of these youths — 20 per 
cent, 26 per cent, and 28 per cent, respectively — ended up in a skilled 
trade. For the laboring families who remained in Boston, therefore — 
keeping in mind that an almost equally large segment of the rvorking- 
class population simply disappeared from the city, and their oppor- 
tunities for advancement may have been much less — there were in 
2880, and there are today, very impressive chances for career mobility 
and even more impressive ones for uprvard movement between gener- 

169 Stephan Thernstrom 

All this calls into question, to say the least, the legend of Boston 
as a stagnant, caste-ridden place inhabited chiefly by Cabots, Lodges, 
George Apleys, and surly Irish plumbers. But it would hardly be 
worth the effort if that were the only conclusion to be drawn. The 
real question is what light these findings shed on the larger question 
of social circulation in the United States, or at least in the American 
city. A good deal probably, but so little is known about mobility 
patterns for the first part of my period that it cannot be proved. I can 
only invoke the consideration that fundamental social processes like 
these tend to operate in broadly similar fashion in all the cities of a 
given society.i2 

For the period before igoo or so my Boston findings can be 
generalized only on assumption, for the only comparable study of 
nineteenth-century mobility patterns is my Newburyport effort, and 
that is hardly a secure foundation for monumental comparisons. In 
the twentieth century, the mists begin to recede and a few more pegs 
on which to hang a generalization become visible. There are substan- 
tial technical difficulties entailed in comparing the highly disparate 
studies available, but it is sufficient to say here that there are no gross 
anomalies — that the little we know, and after World War II it be- 
comes a great deal, is consistent with the general portrait that we 
could sketch with Boston as our only model. Less is known about 
career mobility than about intergenerational mobility — before 1940 
there is only Norristown, Pennsylvania, as a point of comparison, 
while for mobility between generations there are Indianapolis and 
San Jose, California, for the beginning of the twentieth century and 
after. New Haven for the Depression decade, and several national 
samples for the post-World War II period.^® All of these reveal pat- 
terns of upward mobility on a roughly comparable scale; all of them 
point to the conclusion, now a cliche among sociologists, but a cliche 
apparently unknown to authors of popular books about contempo- 
rary poverty, that the door of opportunity is not creaking shut — that 
it may indeed be opening a shade wider. 

These remarks pertain to occupational mobility. Let us turn to 
the phenomenon that bulked so large in Newburyport; the presence 
of men who remain fixed close to the bottom of the occupational 
ladder but who enter the stable working class by accumulating prop- 
erty. There was a sizable minority, albeit a minority, of people who 
remained in Boston for some decades and yet experienced no notable 
improvement in their occupational status. To what extent may we 

170 Poverty in Historical Perspective 

equate this group wth the dregs, the permanent proles? It is harder 
to judge than in the Newburyport case where property mobility was 
so conspicuous. This existed in Boston, too; of the fathers of sons 
from the 1930 birth-certificate sample who were traceable in 1963, 52 
per cent of those who still held unskilled or semisldlled jobs on-ned 
some real estate. On the t^'hole, however, property mobility of this 
kind -was rarer in Boston after 1880 than in nineteenth-century New- 
buity’port, and it is rrorth asking -why. There are some difi&culties ratli 
the data, too technical to expound here, that may help to account for 
tliis, and there is the further consideration that real estate is harder 
for a poor man to obtain in a large city where land values are higher 
and there are characteristically fe'vver single-family drvellings. In 
1900, 81 per cent of the families of Boston lived in rented dwellings. 
(There are important variations, it should be noted, both betoeen 
cities and within cities over time. The Boston rate of home owner- 
ship in igoo tvas unusually low, and the rate in all major American 
cities has gone up precipitously since World War 11 , which helps to 
explain the 1963 figure just cited.) 

It is possible tliat the laborer who would have put his painfully 
accumulated S800 into a lot and small house in Newburj'port, but 
found fewer opportunities to do so in Boston, simply left his money 
in the bank there; it has not been feasible to do the tedious research 
necessarj'’ to answer this question,^^ It is also possible, however, that, 
unable to gratify his land hunger, he simply saved less and used the 
funds to purcliase consumption goods. Did possession of these signify 
entry into the stable working class? It is difficult to say. Clearly a 
significant liistorical change in both the availability and the sodal 
meaning of different kinds of property has occurred some time in this 
century', and we will have to learn more about it than we now know 
to grasp the nature of contemporary poverty. At present, we can only 
speculate about the way in which rising per capita incomes and the 
custom of installment buying — ^wliich became "iddespread not after 
World War II, as has often been assumed, but in the igsos — altered 
the significance of various kinds of property'. It seems important that 
the acquisition of property in nineteenth-century Newbury'port re- 
quired prolonged disciplined behavior before the fact, before the 
desired object — a home — ^was obtained. The contrast should not be 
drawn too sharply — there were mortgages then, substantial do^^n 
payments are required for certain purchases today — but clearly there 
has been a major historical shift in the direction of flying no^r and 
pay'ing later. The poor today are more vulnerable to the vicissitudes 

171 Stephan Thernstrom 

of tlie market partly because they have made long-term financial 
commitments based on the most optimistic assumptions about future 
income and because tliey never developed the penny-pinching facility 
of tlieir predecessors. They have more possessions, certainly, but per- 
haps less seourity comes from having tlie possessions. 

Let us now directly confront the issue of poverty in present-day 
America and its allegedly unique character. Since much of the cur- 
rent discussion defines the poor as all those whose annual incomes 
fall below a certain dollar line, some initial remarks on poverty in 
terms of an income class would be appropriate. There has been a 
good deal of heated argument precisely where to drasv the poverty 
line, but the two points of greatest significance seem to be these. One 
is that wherever the line is drawn — §3,000, $4,000, or ^vherever — an 
ever-smaller fracuon of the American population falls below that 
line. The long-term trend of per capita income in this country' is 
dramatically upward, and the way in which that income is dis- 
tributed has not shifted abruptly in a direction unfavorable to those 
on the lower end of the scale. The rich have been getting riclier, all 
right, but tlie poor have been getting richer at much the same rate.^s 
(The situation of the Negro in the past decade is a partial e-Nception; 
more about that later.) There has been no major increase in tlie pro- 
portion of the national income going to those on the bottom in recent 
decades, to be sure, a fact to which social commentators in the Age of 
Esenhower were peculiarly oblivious. But the awkward truth that 
there is no pronounced trend toward more equal distribution of in- 
come in this country should not obscure the elementary' fact that the 
disadvantaged are now receiving about the same fraction of a pie which 
has grown substantially larger. Admittedly tliey e.xpect more, in some 
ways it can be said that they need more, but tliat it is more is of 
considerable consequence, however it might seem to those of us who 
never have to ivorry about the grocery bills. 

A second observation is tliat we need to know far more than we 
do about whether “the poor,” however defined, are an entity with 
more or less stable membership, or a mere category into whicli Amer- 
icans fall and out of which they climb in rapid succession. If we 
assume that some fixed figure represents a minimal decent income for 
a family of a certain size and that all those beloiv it are living in 
poverty, it is obviously crudal to know if it is pretty much the same 
families and the offspring of those families that fall beloiv that line 
year after year as is commonly assumed by pioponents of the "new 

172 Poverty in Historical Perspective 

poverty” thesis, or if there is a great deal of turnover in the composi- 
tion of the group. Some people with desperately low incomes, after 
all, are graduate students. Are many of the poor temporary victims? 
Given the flood of publication on poverty today it is reraarlcable that 
hardly anything is knorvn about the continuity of tlie group. I have 
been able to turn up only a few fragments of ei'idence which bear 
upon this point, and none does much to support the case of the 

One such fragment is the oft-cited statistic that about 40 per cent 
of the parents receiving AFDC in 1964 were tliemselvcs raised in 
homes where public assistance was received. This may sound im- 
pressive, but it becomes much less so when we recall that a high 
proportion of these parents rvere raised during the Great Depression, 
when at least a quarter, and quite possibly more, of tlie American 
population received such assistance.^® The 40 per cent figure for 
AFDG parents may indicate some over-representation of the offspring 
of the poor of the last generation in the current group, which is 
hardly surprising, but the tendency is at best a modest one. And 
there is not the slightest reason to believe that there is anytliing at 
all new about this tendency. 

No better direct evidence is available on the extent to which 
children born into poor households themselves end up in the lou’- 
income category for life. But a good deal is known about the extent 
to which sons “inherit” their fathers’ occupations, and Galloway has 
made ingenious use of this knowledge to explore the relationship 
between the income position of fathers in various occupational cate- 
gories and their sons’ income positions.^’^ Lacking information about 
the income of individual respondents and their fathers, he was forced 
to work with crude median income figures from broad occupational 
groups. Thus he assumes, for instance, Uiat two individuals in the 
“professional, technical, and kindred workers” category, one the son 
of a laborer and one the son of a physician, both earned the median 
income for that category — i.e., §6,619 in 1960. This doubtless gives a 
somew'hat biased estimate, since the physician’s son was quite possi- 
bly a Iiigh-paid physician himself, and the laborer’s son a much less 
ivell-paid laboratory technician. But Galloway’s calculations are none- 
theless suggestive, and the burden of proof must lie on those who 
claim that the problem I refer to destroys their value altogether. 
Galloway show’s, for instance, that while the median income of pro- 
fessional, technical, and kindred workers was $6,619, and that of 
laboring fathers a shade below the $3,000 poverty line, the median 

173 Stephan Thernstrom 

income of sons of professional, technical, and kindred workers was 
?5’735 of laborers’ sons $4,686. This is still a substantial gap, 

of course, but what is noteworthy is the pronounced covergence of 
the two groups, resulting from the fact that the tendency to inherit 
one’s father’s occupation is quite weak in this society. Laborers 
earned less than half of what professional, technical, and kindred 
workers earned; their sons earned more than 80 per cent of what the 
sons of professional, technical, and kindred workers earned. 

The foregoing items pertain to the transmission of poverty from 
generation to generation. Equally scanty is our knowledge about the 
continuity of poverty from year to year and decade to decade. It is 
known that 69 per cent of the families with incomes below the 
poverty line in 1962 were in the same unhappy position in 1963 as 
well.^® Is an annual rate of persistence in poverty of about two-thirds 
a high one or a low one? It would seem to be rather low if one could 
assume that remaining in the persisting group from one year to the 
next did not alter one’s probability of escaping it in future years; 70 
per cent persistence over two years would mean 49 per cent persist- 
ence over three years, 34 per cent over four years, 24 per cent over 
five, and so on. The assumption that, in the statistician’s language, 
these are independent trials is obviously doubtful to some degree. 
The Michigan Survey Research Center study of a national sample 
interviewed in i960 disclosed that of the reporting families whose 
1959 incomes fell below the poverty line fully 60 per cent had never 
in their lifetimes earned as much as $3,000 in one year, and almost 40 
per cent had never even reached $2,000.1® This certainly suggests 
greater continuity in the low-income group than the simple extrapo- 
lation of the 70 per cent figure for a two-year period. But some of 
these respondents were of advanced age and had gone through their 
peak earning years at a time at which the dollar was worth considerably 
more than it was in 1959, so that recomputation of the data on a real 
dollar basis would have resulted in a lower estimate of continuity. 
Furthermore, the survey was made just prior to the beginning of the 
longest period of uninterrupted economic growth in the nation’s 
history, so that it is quite conceivable that a comparable survey today 
would yield different results. 

Such a study should compute persistence rates using a variety of 
poverty lines rather than one dollar figure; obviously it is important 
to know how many people depart from poverty or fall into it by 
earning $50 more or $50 less a year. There is the interesting finding 
that of the families who climbed above the line between 1962 and 

174 Poverty in Historical Perspective 

1965, 2/5 remained xinder the $4,000 mark, 1/5 earned between 
$4,000 and $5,000, and 2/5 earned more than $5,000.*® The latter 
families are, of course, the really impressive ones, and one tvould lilc 
to know much more about hotv many of them ever fall back and 
under what circumstances. Too little is known about this essential 
matter. At a minimum, hotvever, one can say that those svlio arc 
convinced that poverty in the United States is increasingly being 
meted out in life sentences have yet to do the homework to substanti- 
ate the claim. 

On this question of persistence it is pertinent to note that while 
low persistence in poverty seems unambiguously desirable from the 
point of view of the classic American obsession wdth upr^'ard mobility, 
it is a two-edged sword. If there is considerable poverty at two points 
in time, and few of the impoverished at time A are still impoverished 
at time B, many people who previously tvere doing all right must 
have fallen into poverty. Earlier I alluded to this possibility as uni- 
versal graduate-student poverty, but that was probably misleading in 
that it implies that everyone goes tlirough temporary poverty at the 
start of his career and then escapes it permanently. Being poor would 
be a by-station through which everyone passes on his way out and no 
one returns. We know that this is not altogether the case in America 
today — the poverty rates broken down by age indicate that — but we 
have not gone very far toward developing sound actuarial knowledge 
about this vast problem. A promising start in this direction was made 
more than half a century ago by B. Seebohm Rowmtree when he 
developed the conception of “the poverty cycle," but that w’as a seed 
which regrettably fell upon barren ground.21 The question of the 
connection between poverty and the stages of the individual life c}'cle 
still cries for systematic exploration. 

Another key element of the new poverty thesis is the assumption 
that it is now' far more difficult for a low-skilled manual laborer to 
w’ork his w'ay up the occupational ladder than it once was. As already 
indicated, there is no reason to believe that this is in fact the case. 
For all of today’s facile talk about the barriers against mobility grow- 
ing ev'cr higher, the fragmentary knowledge we have about the 
American class structure in the past and the extensive literature on 
current occupational mobility patterns suggests that changes in the 
opportunity structure over the past century have been minimal, and 
that those minimal changes are in the direction of greater upward 
mobility today. It is dear that the educational requirements for 

175 Stephan Thernstrom 

many desired jobs have been going up steadily, but the expansion of 
educational opportunities has kept pace with, if not outrun, this 
development. It may be that decisive career choices are being made 
earlier than they once were — that now people drop out of the race 
permanently when they drop out of school for certain attractive posi- 
tions, positions for which there were once fewer formal requirements 
— but it is very doubtful that this has resulted in less recruitment 
from below. To some extent, it has had the opposite effect, in that 
the change has been part of an increasingly universalistic process of 

It is doubtful indeed that a new poverty has recently been cre- 
ated in this country because of creeping arteriosclerosis of the occu- 
pational structure. Unskilled and semi-skilled laborers still rise to a 
higher occupation during their lifetimes, in at least a minority of 
cases; the sons still make the jump more frequently than the fathers. 

Impressive though it is, the evidence on rates and patterns of 
occupational mobility does not entirely dispose of the arguments of 
the pessimists. They would emphasize that the demand for unskilled 
labor, the capacity of the economy to absorb raw newcomers and 
assure them steady wages, is not what it was when the golden door 
was open to all. There could, in principle, be a change of this kind, a 
deterioration of conditions at the lowest rung of the occupational 
ladder, without a perceptible decline in upward occupational mobil- 
ity rates. That this has indeed happened in the United States today 
has become an accepted truth in discussions of contemporary poverty 
without benefit of the slightest critical examination. Without doubt, 
the demand for unskilled labor is not what it used to be if we take 
the proportion of jobs that are classified as unskilled as our measure; 
indeed, discussions of this point often allude to the shrinking of the 
unskilled category in this century and the mushrooming of the white- 
collar group as if that proved something. But what about the de- 
mand relative to the supply? To say that this relationship has 
changed in a way unfavorable to the unskilled is to assert that the 
pool of unemployed or underemployed laborers — the Marxian indus- 
trial reserve army — is characteristically larger now than it was in the 
past, and that wage differentials between unskilled and other types of 
work are now larger. Neither of these propositions can be substanti- 

As to the first, we have a decent times series on average annual 
unemployment only back to 1900, and one broken down for specific 

176 Poverty in Historical Perspective 

occupational groups — ^^s^hich is really ^vhat we ^\-ant-— onlv sir.c; 
1940.22 But you needn’t dig at all deeply into historical data to 
arrive at the conclusion that, hoivever hard it may be for mam 
people to find steady emplojanent in our society today, it was often 
harder still in the past. The romantic haze tlirough which so mans 
commentators view the early struggles of tlie immigrants of old 
should not obscure the harsh realities. Thus in igoo 44 per cent of 
the unskilled laborers in the United States were unemployed at some 
time; of a sample of Italian workers in Chicago, for e.\ample, 57 per 
cent had been out of a job some time during the previous year, with 
the average time unemployed running over seven months.22 Tlicsc 
are but illustrations; systematic analysis is impossible given the 
paucity of data. But the fact that horror stories like these become 
increasingly difficult to duplicate as ive approach the present, plus 
the mild downward trend in the over-all unemployment time scries 
since igoo makes me feel very skeptical about the common assump- 
tion that things are getting worse for tliose on the bottom. Unem- 
ployment remains a problem; it is not, at least as yet, a growing 

Similarly, evidence to support the claim that wage diflerentiah 
are changing in a direction unfavorable to the unskilled is lacking. It 
is clear, indeed, that tlie long-term trend has been toward a diminu- 
tion in wage differentials between low-skill and high-skill work- 

All this is not to deny that the unskilled labor market now offers 
fewer emplojment opportunities and resvards to certain kinds of peo- 
ple, and greater opportunities and rewards to others. An obvious 
instance of the former would be the aged, who once were free to die 
with their boots on and now suffer compulsory retirement. But fesv of 
them lived to reach what we now consider retirement age, so that 
isn’t much of an argument for the good old days. 

A far more important case is that of the Negro. This is a more 
complicated issue than is sometimes believed, but there are some 
grounds for pessimism here. It is painfully obvious that the labor 
market today, as well as the housing market, the educational system, 
and virtually every other American institution, is not color-blind. The 
disadvantaged position of the Negro vis a vis the white has been 
endlessly documented. Perhaps the most shocking statistic w’ith re- 
spect to poverty is that nonwhites are 1 1 per cent of the population. 

177 Stephan Thernstrom 

but 20 per cent of the poor, and per cent of those who remained in 
poverty from 1962 to 1963, the only period for which persistence data 
are available.^® But the crucial question concerns trends; static com- 
parisons yield no insight into them. 

There are two difficulties with the attempts which have thus far 
been made to examine the position of the Negro as a dynamic rather 
than a static problem. One is that the discussion has concentrated on 
very recent trends. It has been shown, for example, that in the early 
1950s the Negro unemployment rate rose to double that of the white, 
where it has remained ever since. Similarly, the income of white 
families increased by 35 per cent between 1955 and 1962, while the 
Negro gain was only 31 per cent.^® Dismaying as such information is, 
however, it would be foolish to take it as evidence of a long-term 
deterioration of the position of the Negro in this country. Systematic 
treatment of this question is difficult because of deficiencies in the 
data, but a mere glance at such books as W. E. B. Du Bois’ classic 
The Philadelphia Negro (1899) or Ray Stannard Baker’s Following 
the Color Line (1908) should dispel the illusion that the urban Ne- 
gro was any better off at the turn of the century — quite the con- 
trary .27 And there is the more important objection that Negroes then 
were overwhelmingly concentrated on the farms of the South; it 
would be hard indeed to argue that the laborer in Chicago’s Black 
Belt envied the sharecropper in Mississippi. America’s Negroes voted 
on that proposition with their feet, and the verdict is clear. 

The other main problem with the existing literature on the 
situation of the Negro is that the truly relevant comparison is not be- 
tween Negroes and whites as a bloc, but between Negi'oes and earlier 
migrant groups at the point at which they entered the urban indus- 
trial world. An index of “white” mobility, or median income, educa- 
tion, or anything else is a composite figure which lumps together the 
illiterate Sicilian peasant or the Kentucky hillbilly just arrived in the 
city with the seventh-generation graduate of Harvard College and 
various other long-established social types. Likewise with a figure for 
“Negroes.” Some part of the Negro’s current difficulties in Roxbury 
or Harlem comes from the simple fact that even today a majority of 
the blacks in the city are newcomers to the urban industrial ways. To 
be able to see how many of their disabilities are specific to them 
rather than general concomitants of the migration process we need 
comparisons — not with “white society” today but with the Irish in 
1850, tlie Irish, the Poles, the Jews, and others in igio, and so on. 

178 Poverty in Historical Perspective 

and studies which compare the achievements of Negroes ^s•ho aic 
second- and third-generation city-dwellers with the adn'evemcnts of 
those who are newcomers.^s 

Comparative statistical research of this kind has not yet been 
done, though Oscar Handlin’s The Newcomers and Nathan Glazcr 
and Daniel P. Moynihan’s Beyond the Melting Pot pose the question 
properly .29 I regret to confess, furthermore, that my own Boston 
study doesn’t advance our knowledge in this area as much as I had 
hoped. It provides some of these points of comparison, but it docs 
not, unhappily, reveal much about Boston’s Negroes. They consti- 
tuted such a small fraction of the population until very recently that 
even my large sample contained few of them, and those fetv had vciy 
high out-migration rates, so that few indeed remained in the city 
long enough to have careers that could be traced. But something can 
be said on the basis of the Boston data about other ethnic groups and 
of Blau and Duncan’s comparison of the mobility patterns of non- 
whites and whites, divided into ethnic generations — foreign born, 
second-generation Americans, and native-born Americans of native 


This evidence suggests that it is somewhat misleading to speak 
crudely of "the immigrant experience,” for different groups had 
somewhat different experiences. All made some progress of the sort 
depicted in popular folklore, but some made much more than others 
over comparable periods of time. The Jews, for example, were the 
most dramatically mobile, and the Irish the slowest to rise as a group. 
(To be more precise, the Irish experienced a great deal of short-term 
upward mobility, but unusually high downward mobility as well; 
they found it especially difficult to consolidate their gains in the way 
that other gi'oups did.) Negroes, however, ranked •well belotv the 
average for the least successful of these groups. Many of the obvious 
handicaps of the Negro are those of other netveoraers, it is true. 
Where you end up in the struggle for position is strongly influenced 
by your father's occupation, by your educational attainments, by 
your experience (or lack of experience) in urban living, and by your 
own initial position in the job market; on all four of these counts the 
Negro is in an unenviable position. But the striking and depressing 
thing is that in our society the Negro remains disadvantaged even 
when these barriers are taken into account and their effects removed 
by statistical controls. Not only are the fathers of Negroes exception- 
ally highly concentrated on the lower rungs of the occupation lad- 
der, it is also a bigger handicap for a Negro to come from a low-status 

179 Stephan Thernstrom 

home than for a white, and similarly with low educational attain- 
ment, lack of urban experience, and poor initial start in the labor 
market. All groups starting at the bottom have these handicaps to 
overcome. The point is that these hurdles are not sufficient to ac- 
count for the poor position of Negroes; there is a substantial residual 
factor remaining which is a measure of the distinctive prejudice 
which has been directed at the Negro in this society.®^ 

To the extent, then, that in talking about the economic plight of 
"the new poor” we are really talking about the plight of the Negro 
there is genuine cause for alarm. The position of the Negro is by no 
means worse than it used to be, if that is the relevant point of 
comparison. But if we take the experience of preceding migrant 
groups as a baseline, the Negro poses a more serious problem for 
America than did his predecessors. In addition to the disabilities 
faced by all newcomers to the urban industrial world, the Negro has 
faced and still faces another series of obstacles which keep him down. 
As for the rest of the poor, however — and by none of the current 
definitions of poverty do Negroes constitute anything close to a ma- 
jority of the group — the common assumption that the structure of 
the labor market has changed precipitously and disastrously seems 

There have been some changes in our society which have made 
things tougher for those on the bottom of the ladder and which have 
been responsible for some of the distress and discontent which have 
been mistakenly attributed to the supposed tightening of the occupa- 
tional structure and the presumed glut on the unskilled labor mar- 

One of these has to do with the costs and rewards of having a 
large brood of children. We are now acutely aware that the rich get 
richer and the poor get children, so much so that we tend to forget 
that there ever was a time when kids were an economic asset. In 
nineteenth-century America the earnings of young children were of 
decisive importance in enabling laboring families to secure a prop- 
erty stake in the community; there is evidence that much the same 
sort of thing happened well into the present century. This, of course, 
is no longer true. The extension of compulsory school attendance has 
steadily narrowed the span of years in which a youth is old enough to 
work but too young to set up a household of his own. Furthermore, it 
appears that a youth who is working and yet living at home is less 
likely today to turn his earnings over to his father; the shift from the 

180 Poverty in Historical Perspective 

CCC’s practice of sending a lad’s wages home to his parents to t^• 
Job Corps’ practice of paying members directly is a revealing ss-n'.> 
tom of a larger sodal change which has sveakened the cconont'-: 
viability of the working-class family. Having multiple wage earners, 
all of whom felt that what they earned was not their ov-n but the 
family’s, tvas not only a means of generating a surplus for the s.ivings 
account, it was also a kind of primitive unemployment compensation 
scheme. Even in very hard times it was unlikely that all the famih 
wage earners would be throtvn out of work. These benefits were 
available in only one phase of a man’s life cycle, of course — it is not 
very common to have a steady stream of children throughout one's 
entire life — but if a house could be paid for during that phase, the 
reduction in income tliat came svith the departure of the children 
was tolerable. 

A more important if less tangible change which demands atten- 
tion is the steady erosion of the subcultures which defined the c.\pec- 
tations of workingmen in the past. There tvere once svorking-class 
enclaves — often, but not necessarily, with ethnic boundaries— within 
which the mobility values of the larger society were redefined in more 
attainable terms. The svorkingmen of nineteenth-centuiy Amcrim 
toiled w'ith remarkable dedication to accumulate the funds to pay for 
tiny cottages of their own and were amazingly successful at it. There 
may be some contemporary analogues to those cottages, as books like 
the Middletown volumes, Chinoy’s study of automobile rvorkers, and 
Berger’s Working Class Suburb suggest.^^ But everything about con- 
temporary America conspires to make both copping out entirely and 
having lower aspirations than others more difficult. Tlie unskilled 
laborer of today who earns a year is prosperous indeed by 
nineteenth-century' standards, but he probably feels poorer, because 
Iris expectations are formed in a very different social order. One of 
the clichds about the new poor is tliat their aspirations arc lower 
than those of the old poor — they are a defeated bunch, living in a 
system “designed to be impervious to hope." But tlie point to stress 
is perhaps tire opposite. Many of the poor today expect more and put 
up with less from others in order to get it, precisely because tlie en- 
claves of old have been levelled, with all the docility and deference 
which they fostered. Of course one can always say tliat this represents 
a sveakening of the moral fibre of the common man, that the solution 
to the poverty problem is to convince people that lis'ing on $3,000 
isn’t really living in poverty. But the point is that this weakening of 

181 Stephan Thernstrom 

the moral fibre, i£ you wish to call it that, is no accident; it is not a 
mere passing whim but the result of some large and irreversible 
changes in society. 

It is obvious that this line of argument applies with special force 
to the Negro. His objective grievances are real enough, as 1 have 
stressed, but they are by no means new. They do not suffice to ex- 
plain the militant mood so dramatically on the rise today. Thus, the 
recent insistence of the Roxbury-based Mothers for Adequate Welfare 
that they be given an extra welfare check to purchase turkeys for 
their families at Thanksgiving. “If I can’t get nothing to eat on 
Thanksgiving,” said one, “I might as well be in jail. They give you 
turkey in jail.” Demands of this kind would have been quite un- 
imaginable in this country a century or even twenty years ago; there 
is every reason to believe that they will become more common in the 
futmre. The American Negro has never lived in the thrift-oriented 
subculture of the classic European immigrant, and it is doubtful 
that such groups as the Muslims will be any more successful in creat- 
ing one no'iv than Booker T. Washington was earlier. Even if the 
tvall of discrimination which has long discouraged the development 
of the saving ethic in the Negro community were to vanish overnight, 
this is no longer the nineteenth century and there is no way of 
isolating the ghetto from the mass media and inundating it with 
McGuffey’s readers. Consumption expectations ^vill probably continue 
to remain higher tlian svhat most Negroes can command in the labor 
market, even if the market becomes color-blind. 

Add to this another special circumstance affecting the Negro — 
namely that whereas all preceding groups of neivcomers were suc- 
ceeded by others still more handicapped and impoverished, the 
Negro, along with the Puerto Rican and the Mexican, is obviously 
not destined to be followed by a new underclass to look down upon 
— and you see something of the dynamic behind the current 
racial crisis. Negroes are the first group in American history whose 
only hope of getting off the bottom is not by standing on someone 
else’s shoulders but by eliminating the bottom altogether. They have 
a compelling motive to press for nothing less than the prompt 
attainment of a society in which no family head earns less than 
the median family income, a society in which there is literally an 
income pyramid rather than the diamond-shaped distribution we 
have today, with the median income (approximately § 7,000 today) as 
the floor below which no family is permitted to fall.®® This would, of 

182 Poverty in Historical Perspective 

course, be equally in the economic interest of the white poor, who are 
a majority of the poor, and it might even appeal to significant num- 
bers of the affluent on the grounds of social justice. 

It would be premature to claim that a truly serious War on 
Poverty of this kind will come to pass, or even become a lively public 
issue. The dominant thrust in the Negro community today is totvard 
black control within the boundaries of the ghetto, and there is seem- 
ingly little awareness that the attainment of black power may yield 
no greater gains for the group than Irish power did for the Irish. 
There are some interesting stirrings in poor white neighborhoods, 
but these most often have a defensive character, as in the anti-Urban 
Renewal movement. And it has yet to be demonstrated that the black 
and white poor can effectively cooperate politically. 

But to suggest that in the near future there will be growing 
pressure from below for the redistribution of wealth and power in 
American society is perhaps closer to the mark than the recent analy- 
sis by the Task Force on Economic Growth and Opportunity of the 
U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which concludes comfortably that the 
objective situation of the poor is now so encouraging that “the old 
socialist tradition in discussing income [distribution] is dying out. 
Conditions no longer call for deep-seated and widespread social 
change. The discussion now is on helping the poor. Expropriation of 
property is no longer seriously considered as a remedy.” It is in- 
deed true that the economic position of the poor today has not de- 
teriorated in the manner described by proponents of the "new 
poverty” thesis, but the enlightened capitalists of the Task Force are 
equally misguided in their belief that to disprove the law of inaeas- 
ing misery is to assure that no one on the bottom will ever seek to 
rock the boat, that the poor will remain ever fateful for the benevo- 
lent helping hand. What moves men to protest is simply more com- 
plex and elusive than that, as the ferment which has been provoked 
by the Johnson administration’s version of "helping the poor” should 
make clear. 

I do not, in sum, see any grounds for believing that this country 
is now threatened by a mass of "new poor” whose objective situa- 
tions, especially their opportunities to rise out of poverty, are much 
worse than those of earlier generations. The “new poverty” thesis 
appears to have as little foundation in fact as the old pseudoscientific 
belief in the distinction between the "old” and “new” immigrants, 
which provided the intellectual rationale for the immigration restric- 

183 Stephan Thernstrom 

tion legislation from 1917 to 1924 and the McCarran-Walter Act of 
1952.®® The major changes I see are generally encouraging, or at 
least mixed. 

One can be clear-headed about what is happening without being 
complacent about the status quo. I have never understood why so 
many Americans believe that to assert that things are bad you must 
insist that they are getting worse. I would argue that they could well 
be getting a little better — as the situation of the poor in America is, 
on the whole — and still be intolerably bad. A little less unemployment 
can still be too damned much unemployment in a culture in which 
people have become civilized enough to understand that recurrent 
unemployment is due not to the will of God but to the inaction of 
man. To conjure up a Golden Age from which to judge the present 
and find it wanting is quite unnecessary, and as Tocqueville pointed 
out long ago, it is even somewhat un-American, for the American way 
is to reject the achievements of the past as a standard for the present 
or future. Americans, he said, use the past only as a means of infor- 
mation, and existing facts only as a lesson used in doing otherwise and 
doing better. 


1. Louis Ferman et al., Poverty in America (Ann Arbor: University of Michi- 
gan Press, 1965) , xv-xvi. 

2. Oscar Lewis, La Vida (New York: Random House, 1965) , xliv. 

3. A full analysis of poverty in the American past would begin earlier, and 
would examine the social structure of agrarian America. For helpful clues, see 
Jackson Turner Main, The Social Structure of Revolutionary America (Princeton, 
N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1965) : Merle Curti et al.. The Making of an 
American Community: A Case Study of Democracy in a Frontier County (Stanford: 
Stanford University Press, 1959) ; Stanley Elkins and Eric McKitrick, "A Meaning 
for Turner’s Frontier,” Political Science Quarterly, LXIX (1954) , 321-353, 565-602: 
F. L. Owsley, Plain Folk of the Old South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State Univer- 
sity Press, 1949) : Fabian Linden, “Economic Democracy in the Slave South: An 
Appraisal of Some Recent Views,” Journal of Negro History, XXXI (1946) , 140- 
i8g. But it would be a digression to pursue the issue here, for the urban frontier 
is the only frontier we have now, and it is to the nineteenth-century city we must 
look for a baseline against which to appraise contemporary poverty. 

4. For details, see Stephan Thernstrom, Poverty and Progress: Social Mobility 
in a iffth Century City (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1964: paper- 
back, New York: Atheneum, 1969) . 

5. William Ellery Channing, “Discourse on Tuckerman,” in Works, VI (Bos- 
ton: G. G. Channing, 1849), 101. 

6. On the crucial distinction between working-class and lower-class cultures, 
see S. M. Miller and Frank Reissman, “The Working Class Subculture: A New 
View,” Social Problems, IX (Summer 1961) , 86-97. 

7. Report of the Massachusetts Bureau of the Statistics of Labor for 18J4 
(Boston, 1875), pp. 365-370. 

184 Poverty in Historical Perspective 

8. David Matza, "The Disreputable Poor,” in Reinhard Bendix and S.M. 
Lipset, Classj Status and Power (rev. ed., Glencoe, 111 .: The Free Press, iqm 

9. All comments on Boston are based on my current work in progress, svhich 
employs the techniques of the Newburyport study to examine social mobility in 
Boston from i88o to 1963. 

10. Donald J, Bogue, The Population of the United States (Glencoe, 111 .; The 
Free Press, 1959) , 384-386. 

11. Jacob S. Siegel and Melvin Zelnik, "An Evaluation of Coverage in the 
Census of Population by Techniques of Demographic Analysis and by Composite 
Methods," Proceedings of the Social Statistics Section, ig66, American Statistical 
Association, pp. 71-85; Jacob S. Siegel, "Completeness of Coverage of the Nonwhite 
Population in the i960 Census and Current Estimates, and Some Implications," 
in David M. Heer, ed.. Social Statistics and the City (Cambridge, Mass.: Joint 
Center for Urban Studies, 1968) , pp. 13-54. 

12. For further discussion of this point, see Thernstrom, Poverty and Progress, 
Ch. 8. 

13. For citations to this literature as of 1964, see Thernstrom, Poverty and 
Progress. For the most recent contribution, and a survey of publications in the 
interim, see Peter M. Blau and Otis Dudley Duncan, The American Occupational 
Structure (New York: Wiley, 1967) . This is a highly technical study, based on a 
national sample of 20,700, gathered during the Census Bureau’s monthly Current 
Population Survey. The quantity and quality of the data presented here and the 
analytical ingenuity of the authors make this a work of exceptional importance. 

14. Wheeler found this to be the case ivith the Irish of Providence, R.I., in 
the 1850 to 1880 period. They held little real estate, but accumulated very impres- 
sive savings; Robert Wheeler, "The Fifth-Ward Irish: Mobility at Mid-Century,” 
unpublished seminar paper. Brown University, 1967. 

15. Herman P. Miller, Income Distribution in the United Slates (Washing- 
ton: United States Bureau of the Census, Government Printing Office, 1966) . 
Miller has also prepared a most valuable survey of the evidence on “Changes in 
the Number and Composition of the Poor” in twentieth-century America, in 
Maigaret S. Gordon, ed.. Poverty in America (San Francisco: Chandler 1965), 
pp. 81-101. 

16. M. Elaine Burgess, "Poverty and Dependency: Some Selected Character- 
istics,” Journal of Social Issues, XXI (January 1965) , 79-97. Burgess asserts that 
only 10 per cent of the American population has ever received public assistance, 
and that AFDC parents are accordingly dramatically over-represented. But the 
10 per cent figure, taken from the Michigan Survey Research Center study, James 
N. Morgan et al.. Income and Welfare in the United States (New York: McGraw- 
Hill, 1962) , p. 144, refers to a sample of adults in i960, not to a sample of persons 
old enough to be grandparents at that time. This, of course, would be the 
relevant point of comparison. The grandparents of the AFDC children of the early 
1960s were adults bade in the igsos, when dependency rates were far higher. Pre- 
cisely how much higher ive do not know, regrettably. There is abundant evidence 
on how many aid recipients there were at any one point in time. Thus m 
December 1933 some 24.8 million Americans tvere receiving public assistance, 
relief, work program employment, and other emergency employment financed 
from federal, state, or local funds; Marietta Stevenson, Public Welfare Administra- 
tion (New York: Macmillan 1938) , p, 38. This was 20 per cent of the American 
population. A year later the figure was 23.5 million, or 19 per cent. But this does 
not tell us how many Americans ever turned to the government for assistance 
during this period. The proportion cannot be lower than so per cent, for 20 per 
cent were receiving aid at the worst moment of the depression. But the^ true 
figure is obviously above that, since it is most unlikely that all of the 23.5 million 
assisted in December 1934 rvere among the 24.8 million dependents of December 
1933- About 20 per cent of the families below the poverty line in 1963, after all, 
had fellen into poverty after having had a higher income the preceding year; 

Annual Report of the President’s Council of Economic Advisers (Washing- 

185 Stephan Thernstrom 

ton, 1965) , p. 165. It seems safe to assume that in each year of the depression 
there were American families coming to financial grief and seeking public help 
for the first time. A rate for all those who ever received aid in the depression 
decade, therefore, would be distinctly above the rate at any one moment. It would 
be distinctly above 20 per cent and might even be as much as double that. If 
that were the case, the 40 per cent figure for the homes in which the parents of 
today’s AFDC children were raised would indicate no tendency at all for de- 
pendency to be "handed down from generation to generation.” 

17. Lowell E. Galloway, "On the Importance of ‘Picking One’s Parents,’ ” 
Quarterly Review of Economics and Business, VI (Summer 1966) , 7-15. 

18. i^6y Report of President's Council of Economic Advisers, pp. 164-165. 

19. Morgan et al., op. cit., p. 200. Table 16-7 recalculated to exclude cases 
in which maximum annual earnings were unknown. 

20. Burton Weisbrod, The Economics of Poverty: An American Paradox 
(Englewood Cliffs, N. J.; Prentice-Hall, 1965) , p. 87. 

21. B. Seebohm Rowntree, Poverty: A Study in Town Life (London: Mac- 
millan, 1901) . Rowntree’s conception was better than his execution, for his analysis 
of the dynamics of poverty rested on dubious inferences from static, cross-sectional 
data. He never appears to have contemplated the possibility that some York 
residents may have escaped from the vicious cycle he described, and his research 
technique was not suitable for discovering whether or not this ever happened. 

22. Stanley Lebergott, Manpower in Economic Growth: The American Record 
Since 1800 (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1964) , pp. 164-190. 

23. Robert Hunter, Poverty (New York: Macmillan, 1904) , pp. 33-34. 

24. Miller, op. ctt., Ch. 3 and the literature cited there. For other arguments 
against the view that the situation of the low-skilled blue-collar worker has 
drastically deteriorated, see Charles Silberman, The Myths of Automation (New 
York: Harper and Row, 1966), esp. Ch. 2. 

25. Herman Miller, Poverty American Style (Belmont, Cal.: Wadsworth Pub- 
lishing Co., 1966) , p. 4. 

26. Perhaps the most useful collection of material on the issue is Arthur M. 
Ross and Herbert Hill, ed.. Employment, Race and Poverty (New York: Harcourt, 
Brace, 1967) ; the data cited arc from pp. 30 and 87. Also valuable is Talcott 
Parsons, ed.. The Negro American (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1965) , esp. Rashi 
Fein’s "An Economic and Social Profile of the Negro American,” pp. 102-133. 

27. W. E. B. DuBois, The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study (Philadelphia: 
University of Pennsylvania Press, 1899) ; Ray Stannard Baker, Following the Color 
Line (New York: Doubleday, Page & Co., 1908) . See also the excellent new 
historical study by Allan H. Spear, Black Chicago: The Making of a Negro 
Ghetto, jSgo-iyao (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1967) . 

28. This argument is developed more fully in Stephan 'Thernstrom, "Up from 
Slavery,” Perspectives in American History, I (1967) , 434-440. For data on the 
importance of recent migrants in the northern Negro population, see Philip M. 
Hauser, "Demographic Factors in the Integration of the Negro,” in Parsons, 
op. cit., pp. 71-101. 

29. Oscar Handlin, The Newcomers: Negroes and Puerto Ricans in a Chang- 
ing Metropolis (New York: Doublcday, 1959) : Nathan Glazer and Daniel P. 
Moynihan, Beyond the Melting Pot (Cambridge: Harvard and MIT Press, 1963) . 

30. Blau and Duncan, op. cit., Ch. 6. 

31. This argument is strongly reinforced by the work of Professor Samuel 
Bowles of the Harvard Economics Department on race differentials in the returns 
obtained from investment in education. See “Towards Equality of Educational 
Opportunity?” Harvard Educational Review, XXXVIII (Winter 1968) , 89-99. 
Bowles’ work is based on the i960 VS. Census as well as a recent dissertation on 
returns to earnings. See G. Hanoch, "Personal Earnings and Investment in 
Schooling,” unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of Chicago, 1965. The 
data indicate the appalling possibility that many Negro school dropouts are in 
fact behaving in an economically rational manner in that for Negroes but not 
for whites the income lost by remaining in school will not necessarily be made up 

186 Poverty in Historical Perspective 

later. Relatively well-educated Negroes tend to earn better incomes than relati\el\ 
uneducated ones, but at some educational levels short of graduate school the can 
is not large enough to make up for the additional years the educated remain 
outside the labor market. 

32. Robert and Helen Lynd, Middletown (Netv York: Harcourt Brace, igsn) 
and Middletown in Transition (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1937) ; Ely Chinoy 
Automobile Workers and the American Dream (New York: Doubleday, 1955)' 
Bennett M. Berger, Working Class Suburb (Berkeley: University of California 
Press, i960) . 

33. Michael Harrington, The Other America (New York: Macmillan, 1962), 

p. 10. 

34. Boston Globe, November 23, 1966. 

35. For all of their disagreements, Booker T. Washington and IV.E.B. 
DuBois agreed on this. See Booker T. Washington, Up From Slavery (Nets’ York: 
Doubleday, Page, igoi); paperback edn. (New York: Bantam Books, 1956), esp. 
pp. 62-63 and W. E. B. DuBois, op. cit., pp. 185 and passim. 

36. See the fascinating discussion of this matter in Lee Raimvater’s chapter 
in the present volume, Ch. 9. 

37. Task Force on Economic Growth and Opportunity, Chamber of Com- 
merce of the United States, The Concept of Poverty (Washington, 1965), 3. 

38. For an incisive critique of the old immigrant-netv immigiant dichotomy, 
see Oscar Handlin, Race and Nationality in American Life (Boston: Little, Brotm, 
1957) , Ch. 5. 

Chapter 7 

^ The Culture of Poverty 


As an anthropologist, I have tried to understand poverty and its 
associated traits as a culture or, more accurately, as a subculture ^ with 
its otra structure and rationale, as a way of life that is passed dotvn 
from generation to generation along family lines. This vietv directs 
attention to the fact that the culture of poverty in modern nations is 
not only a matter of economic deprivation, of disorganization, or of 
the absence of something. It is also something positive and provides 
some retvards tsdthout tvhich the poor could hardly carry on. 

In my book Five Families: Mexican Case Studies in the Culture 
of Poverty, I suggested that the culture of poverty transcends re- 
gional, rural-imban, and national differences and shows remarkable 
cross-national similarities in family structure, interpersonal relations, 
time orientation, value systems, and spending patterns. These simi- 
larities are examples of independent invention and convergence. 
They are common adaptations to common problems. 

The culture of poverty can come into being in a variety of 
historical contexts. However, it tends to gro'sv and flourish in societies 
tvith the following set of conditions: (i) a cash economy, tvage labor, 
and production for profit; - (2) a persistently high rate of unemploy- 
ment and underemployment for unskilled labor; (3) lotv -wages; (4) 
the failiu-e to provide social, political, and economic organization, 
either on a voluntary basis or by government imposition, for the lo-w- 
income population; (5) the existence of a bilateral kinship system 

From Oscar Le«’is, The Study of Slum Culture — Backgrounds for La Vida (Nen- 
-^’ork: Random House, 1968). © 1968 by Oscar Lerds. Reprinted by permission of 
Random House, Inc. 

188 The Culture of Poverty 

rather than a unilateral one; and finally, (6) the existence in the 
dominant class of a set of values that stresses the accumulation of 
wealth and property, tlie possibility of upward mobility, and thrift 
and that explains low economic status as the result of personal in- 
adequacy or inferiority. 

The way of life that develops among some of the poor under 
these conditions is the culture of poverty. It can best be studied in 
urban or rural slums and can be described in terms of some seventy 
interrelated social, economic, and psychological traits. However, the 
number of traits and the relationships between them may vary from 
society to society and from family to family. For example, in a highly 
literate society, illiteracy may be more diagnostic of the culture of 
poverty than in a society where illiteracy is widespread and ■where 
even the well-to-do may be illiterate, as in some Mexican peasant 
villages before the revolution. 

The culture of poverty is both an adaptation and a reaction of 
the poor to their marginal position in a class-stratified, highly 
individuated, capitalistic society. It represents an effort to cope with 
feelings of hopelessness and despair that develop from the realization 
of the improbability of achieving success in terms of the values and 
goals of the larger society. Indeed, many of the traits of the culture of 
poverty can be viewed as attempts at local solutions for problems not 
met by existing institutions and agencies because the people are not 
eligible for them, cannot afford them, or are ignorant or suspicious of 
them. For example, unable to obtain credit from banks, they are 
thrown upon their own resources and organize informal credit de- 
vices without interest. 

The culture of poverty, however, is not only an adaptation to a 
set of objective conditions of the larger society. Once it comes into 
existence, it tends to perpetuate itself from generation to generation 
because of its effect on the children. By the time slum children are 
age six or seven, they have usually absorbed the basic values and 
attitudes of their subculture and are not psychologically geared to 
take full advantage of the changing conditions or increased opportu- 
nities that may occur in their lifetime. 

Most frequently, the culture of poverty develops when a strati- 
fied social and economic system is breaking down or is being replaced 
by another, as in the case of the transition from feudalism to capital- 
ism or during periods of rapid technological change. Often the 
culture of poverty results from imperial conquest in which the native 
social and economic structure is smashed and the natives are mam- 

189 Oscar Lewis 

tained in a servile colonial status, sometimes for many generations. It 
can also occur in the process of cletribalization, snch as that no\v 
going on in Africa. 

The most likely candidates for the cnltnre of poverty ate the 
people ■who come from the lower strata of a rapidly changing society 
and are already partially alienated from it. Thus, landless rural 
■workers who migi'ate to the cities can be expected to develop a cul- 
ture of poverty much more readily than migrants from stable peasant 
villages with a well-organized traditional culture. In this connection 
there is a striking contrast between Latin America, where the rural 
population has long ago made the transition from a tribal to a 
peasant society, and Africa, which is still close to its tribal heritage. 
The more corporate nature of many of the African tribal societies as 
compared to Latin American rural communities and the persistence 
of village ties tend to inhibit or delay the formation of a full-blown 
culture of poverty in many of the African towns and cities. The 
special conditions of apartheid in South Africa, where the migrants 
are segregated into separate “locations” and do not enjoy freedom of 
movement, create special problems. Here, the institutionalization of 
repression and discrimination tends to develop a greater .sense of 
identity and group consciousness. 

The culture of poverty can be studied from various points of 
view: the relationship between the subculture and the larger society; 
the nature of the slum community; the nature of tlie family; and the 
attitudes, values, and character structure of tlie individual. 

The lack of effective participation and integration of the poor in 
the major institutions of the larger society is one of the crucial char- 
acteristics of the culture of poverty. This complex matter results from 
a variety of factors, whicli may include lack of economic resources, 
segregation and discrimination, fear, suspicion or apathy, and the 
development of local solutions for problems, However, participation 
in some of the imtitutions of the larger society— for example, in the 
jaik, the army, and the public relief system — does not per se elimi- 
nate the traits of the culture of poverty. In the case of a relief system 
that barely keeps people alive, both the basic poverty and the sense of 
hopelessness are perpetuated rather than eliminated. 

Lovz vzages and chronic unemployment and und. ■ 
lead to lovz income, lack of property ownership, 
absence of food reserves in the home, and a chronic 
These conditions reduce the possibility of " 

190 The Culture of Poverty 

the larger economic system. And as a response to these conditions we 
find in the culture of poverty a high incidence of pawming of per- 
sonal goods, borrowing from local moneylenders at usurious interest 
rates, spontaneous informal credit devices organized by neighbon, 
use of secondhand clothing and furniture, and the pattern of fre- 
quent buying of small quantities of food many times a day as the 
need arises. 

People with a culture of poverty produce very little wealth and 
receive very little in return. They have a low level of literacy and 
education, do not belong to labor unions, are not members of politi- 
cal parties, generally do not participate in the national welfare agen- 
cies, and make very little use of banks, hospitals, department stores, 
museums, or art galleries. They have a critical attitude totvard some 
of the basic institutions of the dominant classes, hatred of the police, 
mistrust of government and those in high position, and a cynicism 
that extends even to the church. These factors give the culture of 
poverty a high potential for protest and for being used in political 
movements aimed against the existing social order. 

People with a culture of poverty are aware of middle-class 
values; they talk about them and even claim some of them as their 
own, but on the whole they do not live by them.® Thus, it is impor- 
tant to distinguish between what they say and what they do. For 
example, many will tell you that marriage by la-\v, by the church, or 
by both is the ideal form of marriage; but fetv maix)'. For men trho 
have no steady jobs or other source of income, who do not orvm 
property and have no wealth to pass on to their children, •who are 
present-time oriented and want to avoid the expense and legal diffi- 
culties involved in formal marriage and divorce, free unions or con- 
sensual marriages make a lot of sense. Women often turn down offers 
of marriage because they feel that it ties them do-ivn to men ■who are 
immature, punishing, and generally unreliable. Women feel that 
consensual union gives them a better break; it gives them some of the 
freedom and flexibility that men have. By not giving the fathers of 
their children legal status as husbands, the women have a stronger 
claim on their children if they decide to leave their men. It also gives 
women exclusive rights to a house or any other property they oisti. 

In describing the culture of poverty on the local community 
level, we And poor housing conditions, crowding, gregariousness, and, 
above all, a minimum of organization beyond the level of the nuclear 
and extended family. Occasionally, there are informal temporary 
groupings or voluntary associations within slums. The existence of 

191 Oscar Lewis 

neighborhood gangs that cut across slum settlements represents a 
considerable advance beyond the zero point of the continuum that I 
have in mind. Indeed, it is the low level of organization that gives 
the culture of poverty its marginal and anachronistic quality in our 
highly complex, specialized, organized society. Most primitive peo- 
ples have achieved a higher level of socio-cultural organization than 
our modern urban slum dtvellers. 

In spite of the generally low level of organization, there may be 
a sense of community and esprit de corps in urban slums and in slum 
neighborhoods. This can vary within a single city or from region to 
region or country to country. The major factors that influence this 
variation are the size of the slum, its location and physical character- 
istics, length of residence, incidence of homeownership and land- 
ownership (versus squatter rights), rentals, ethnicity, kinship ties, 
and freedom or lack of freedom of movement. When slums are 
separated from the surrounding area by enclosing walls or other 
physical barriers, when rents are low and fixed and stability of resi- 
dence is great (twenty or thirty years) , when the population consti- 
tutes a distinct ethnic, racial, or language group or is bound by ties of 
kinship or compadrazgo, ^ and tvhen there are some internal voluntary 
associations, then the sense of local community approaches that of a 
village community. In many cases, this combination of favorable con- 
ditions does not exist. However, even where internal organization and 
esprit de corps are at a bare minimum and people move around a 
great deal, a sense of territoriality develops that sets off the slum 
neighborhoods from the rest of the city. In Mexico City and San 
Juan, this sense of territoriality results from the unavailability of low- 
income housing outside of tlie slum areas. In South Africa, the sense 
of territoriality grows out of the segregation enforced by the govern- 
ment, which confines the rural migrants to specific locations. 

On the family level the major traits of the culture of poverty are 
the absence of childhood as a specially prolonged and protected stage 
in the life cycle; early initiation into se.x; free unions or consensual 
marriages: a relatively high incidence of the abandonment of wives 
and children; a trend toward female- or mother-centered families, 
and consequently a much greater knowledge of maternal relatives; a 
strong predisposition to authoritarianism; lack of privacy; verbal 
emphasis upon family solidarity, which is only rarely achieved be- 
cause of sibling rivalry; and competition for limited goods and ma- 
ternal affection. 

On the level of the indiwdual, the major characteristics are 

192 The Culture of Poverty 

strong feelings of marginality, of helplessness, of dependence, and of 
inferiority. I found this to be true of slum dwellers in Mexico City 
and San Juan among families who do not constitute a distinct ethnic 
or racial group and who do not suffer from racial discrimination. In 
the United States, of course, the culture of poverty of the Negroes has 
the additional disadvantage of racial discrimination, but as I have 
already suggested, this additional disadvantage contains a great po- 
tential for revolutionary protest and organization that seems to be 
absent in the slums of Mexico City or among the poor whites in the 

Other traits include high incidence of maternal deprivation, of 
orality, and of weak ego structure; confusion of sexual identification; 
lack of impulse control; strong present-time orientation, with rela- 
tively little ability to defer gratification and to plan for the future; 
sense of resignation and fatalism; widespread belief in male superior- 
ity; and high tolerance for psychological pathology of all sorts. 

People with a culture of poverty are provincial and locally 
oriented and have very little sense of history. They know only 
their own troubles, their own local conditions, their own neighbor- 
hoods, their own way of life. Usually they do not have the knowl- 
edge, the vision, or the idealogy to see the similarities between their 
problems and those of their counterparts elsewhere in the world. 
They are not class conscious although they are very sensitive indeed 
to status distinctions. 

In considering the traits discussed above, the following proposi- 
tions must be kept in mind: (i) The traits fall into a number of 
clusters and are functionally related within each cluster. (2) Many, 
but not all, of the traits of different clusters are also functionally 
related. For example, men who have low wages and suffer chronic 
unemployment develop a poor self-image, become irresponsible, 
abandon their wives and children, and take up with other women 
more frequently than do men with high incomes and steady jobs. (3) 
None of the traits, taken individually, is distinctive per se of the 
subculture of poverty. It is their conjunction, their function, and 
their patterning that define the subculture. (4) The subculture of 
poverty, as defined by these traits, is a statistical profile; that is, the 
frequency of distribution of the traits both singly and in clusters will 
be greater than in the rest of the population. In other words, more of 
the traits will occur in combination in families with a subculture of 
poverty than in stable working-class, middle-class, or upper-class fam- 
ilies. Even within a single slum there will probably be a gradient 

193 Oscar Lewis 

from culture of poverty families to families without a culture of 
poverty. (5) The profiles of the subculture of poverty ’jvill probably 
differ in systematic ways with the difference in the national cultural 
contexts of which they are a part. It is expected that some new traits 
will become apparent with research in different nations. 

I have not yet worked out a system of •^^•eighting each of die 
traits, but this could probably be done and a scale could be set up for 
many of the traits. Traits that reflect lack of participation in the 
institutions of the larger society or an outright rejection — in practice, 
if not in theor)- — ^ivould be the crucial traits; for example, illiterac)-, 
provincialism, free unions, abandonment of women and diildren, 
lack of membership in voluntary associadons beyond the extended 

When the poor become class conscious or active members of 
trade-union organizations or when tiiey adopt an internationalist 
oudook on the world, they are no longer part of the culture of 
poverty although they may sdll be desperately poor. Any move- 
ment — be it religious, pacifist, or revoludonaiy— that organizes and 
gives hope to the poor and effecdvely promotes solidarity and a 
sense of identification with larger groups destroys the psychological 
and social core of the culture of poverty. In diis connecdon, I suspect 
that the civil rights movement among the Negroes in the United 
States has done more to improve their self-image and self-respect than 
have their economic advances, although, without doubt, the two are 
mutually reinforcing. 

The disdnction bens’een povert)’ and the culture of poverty is 
basic to the model described here. There are degrees of poverty and 
many kinds of poor people. The culture of poverty refers to one ^\'ay 
of life shared by poor people in given historical and social contexts. 
The economic traits tltat I have listed for tlie culture of poverty are 
necessary but not sufficient to define the phenomena I have in mind. 
There are a number of historical examples of ver)' poor segments of 
the population that do not have a way of life that I would describe as 
a subculture of poverty. Here I should like to give four examples. 

1. Many of the primitive or preliterate peoples studied by an- 
thropologists suffer from dire poverty that is the result of poor tech- 
nology’ or poor natural resources, or both, but they do not have the 
traits of tlie subculture of poverty. Indeed, they do not constitute 
a subculture because their societies are not highly stratified. In 
spite of their poverty, they have a relatively integrated, satis- 

194 The Culture of Poverty 

fying, and self-sufficient culture. Even the simplest food-gatherincr 
and hunting tribes have a considerable amount of organization 
including bands and band chiefs, tribal councils, and local self- 
government — traits that are not found in the culture of poverty. 

2. In India the lower castes (the Chamars, the leather workers, 
and the Bhangis, the sweepers) may be desperately poor both in the 
villages and in the cities, but most of them are integrated into the 
larger society and have their own panchayat organizations, which cut 
across village lines and give them a considerable amount of power.^ 
In addition to the caste system, which gives individuals a sense of 
identity and belonging, there is still another factor: the clan system. 
Wherever there are unilateral kinship systems or clans, one would 
not expect to find the culture of poverty, because a clan system gives 
people a sense of belonging to a corporate body that has a history 
and a life of its own and thereby provides a sense of continuity, a 
sense of a past and of a future. 

3. The Jews of eastern Europe were very poor, but they did not 
have many of the traits of the culture of poverty because of their 
tradition of literacy, the great value placed upon learning, the organ- 
ization of the community around tire rabbi, tlie proliferation of local 
voluntary associations, and their religion, which taught that they 
were the chosen people. 

4. My fourth example is speculative and relates to socialism. On 
the basis of my limited experience in one socialist country — Cuba— 
and on the basis of my reading, I am inclined to believe that the 
culture of poverty does not exist in tlie socialist countries. I first went 
to Cuba in 1947 as a visiting professor for the State Department. At 
that time I began a study of a sugar plantation in Melena del Sur 
and of a slum in Havana. After the Castro revolution, I made my 
second trip to Cuba as a correspondent for a major magazine, and I 
revisited the same slum and some of the same families. The physical 
aspect of the slum had changed very little, except for a beautiful new 
nursery school. It was clear that the people were still desperately 
poor, but I found much less of the feelings of despair, apathy, and 
hopelessness that are so diagnostic of urban slums in the culture of 
poverty. The people expressed great confidence in their leaders and 
hope for a better life in the future. The slum itself was now highly 
organized, with block committees, educational committees, party 
committees. The people had a new sense of power and importance. 
They were armed and were given a doctrine that glorified the lower 
class as the hope of humanity. (I was told by one Cuban official that 

195 Oscar Lewis 

they had practically eliminated delinquency by giving arms to the 

It is my impression that Castro, unlike Marx and Engels, did not 
ivrite off the so-called lumpenproletariat as an inherently reaction- 
ary and anti-revolutionary force, but rather saw its revolutionary 
potential and tried to utilize this potential. In this connection, 
Frantz Fanon makes a similar evaluation of the role of the lumpen- 
proletariat based on his experience in the Algerian struggle for 

It is tvithin this mass of humanity, this people of the shanty towns, at the 
core of the lumpenproletariat, that the rebellion ^vill find its urban spear- 
head. For the lumpenproletariat, that horde of starving men, uprooted 
from their tribe and from their clan, constitutes one of the most spon- 
taneous and most radically revolutionary forces of a colonized people.® 

My own studies of the urban poor in tlie slums of San Juan do 
not support the generalizations of Fanon. I have found very little 
revolutionary spirit or radical ideology among low-income Puerto 
Ricans. On the contrary, most of the families I studied were quite 
conservative politically, and about half of them were in favor of the 
Republican Statehood Party.^ It seems to me that tlie revolutionary 
potential of people with a culture of poverty will vary considerably 
according to the national context and the particular historical cir- 
cumstances. In a country like Algeria, which was fighting for its 
independence, the lumpenproletariat was dra^vn into the struggle 
and became a vital force. However, in countries like Puerto Rico in 
■which the movement for independence has very little mass support 
and in countries like Mexico that acliieved tlieir independence a long 
time ago and are no'w in their postrevolutionary period, the lumpen- 
proletariat is not a leading soiurce of rebellion or of revolutionary 

In effect, tve find that in primitive societies and in caste societies 
the culture of poverty does not develop. In socialist, fascist, and 
highly developed capitalist societies witli a •welfare state, the culture 
of poverty tends to decline. I suspect that the culture of poverty 
flourishes in, and is generic to, the early free-enterprise stage of capi- 
talism and that it is also endemic to colonialism. 

It is important to distinguish benveen different profiles in the 
subculture of poverty, depending upon the national context in -jvhich 
these subcultures are found. If we think of the culture of poverty 

196 The Culture of Poverty 

primarily in terms of integration in the larger society and a sense of 
identification with the great tradition of that society or with a new 
emerging revolutionary tradition, then we will not be surprised that 
some slum dwellers with a low per capita income may have moved 
further away from the core characteristics of the culture of poverty 
than others with a higher per capita income. For example, Puerto 
Rico has a much higher per capita income than Mexico, yet Mexicans 
have a deeper sense of personal and national identity. In Mexico 
even the poorest slum dweller has a much richer sense of the past and 
a deeper identification with the great Mexican tradition than do 
Puerto Ricans with their tradition. In both countries, I presented 
urban slum dwellers with the names of national figures. In Mexico 
City, quite a higli percentage of the respondents, including those 
with little or no formal schooling, knew about Cuauhtdmoc, 
Hidalgo, Father Morelos, Judrez, Diaz, Zapata, Carranza, and 
Cdrdenas. In San Juan, the respondents showed an abysmal ig- 
norance of Puerto Rican historical figures. The names of Raradn 
Power, Josd de Diego, Baldorioty de Castro, Ram6n Betances, 
Nemesio Canales, and Llordens Torres rang no bell. For the 
lower-income Puerto Rican slum dweller, history begins and ends 
with Munoz Rivera, his Munoz Marin, and Dona Felisa Rincdnl 

I have listed fatalism and a low level of aspiration as key traits of 
the subculture of poverty. Here, too, however, the national context 
makes a big difference. Certainly the level of aspiration of even the 
poorest sector of the population in a country like the United States 
with traditional ideology of upward mobility and democracy is much 
higher than in more backward countries like Ecuador and Peru, 
where both the idealogy and the actual possibilities of upward mobil- 
ity are extremely limited and where authoritarian values still persist 
in both the urban and the rural milieu. 

Because of the advanced technology, the high level of literacy, 
the development of mass media, and the relatively high aspiration 
level of all sectors of the population, especially when compared with 
underdeveloped nations, I believe that although there is still a great 
deal of poverty in the United States (estimates range from 30 to 50 
million people) there is relatively little of what I would call the 
culture of poverty. My rough guess would be that only about 20 per 
cent of the population below the poverty line (from 6 to 10 million 
people) in the United States have characteristics that would justify 
classifying their way of life as that of a culture of poverty. Probably 
the largest sector within this group consists of very low income Ne- 

197 Oscar Lewis 

groes, Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, American Indians, and southern 
poor whites. The relatively small number of people in the United 
States with a culture of poverty is a positive factor because it is much 
more difficult to eliminate the culture of poverty than to eliminate 
poverty per se. 

Middle-class people — and this would certainly include most so- 
cial scientists — tend to concentrate on the negative aspects of the 
culture of poverty. They tend to associate negative valences to such 
traits as present-time orientation and concrete versus abstract orien- 
tation. I do not intend to idealize or romanticize the culture of 
poverty. As someone has said, "It is easier to praise poverty than to 
live in it"; yet some of the positive aspects that may flow from these 
traits must not be overlooked. Living in the present may develop a 
capacity for spontaneity, for the enjoyment of the sensual, for the 
indulgence of impulse, which is often blunted in the middle-class, 
futiure-oriented man. Perhaps it is this reality of the moment that the 
existentialist writers are so desperately trying to recapture but that the 
culture of poverty experiences as natural, everyday phenomena. The 
frequent use of violence certainly provides a ready outlet for hostility 
so that people in the culture of poverty suffer less from repression 
than does the middle class. 

In the traditional view, anthropologists have said that culture 
provides human beings with a design for living, with a ready-made 
set of solutions for human problems so that individuals in each gen- 
eration do not have to begin all over again from scratch. That is, the 
core of culture is its positive adaptive function. I, too, have called 
attention to some of the adaptive mechanisms in the culture of 
poverty — for example, the low aspiration level helps to reduce frus- 
tration, the legitimization of short-range hedonism makes possible 
spontaneity and enjoyment. Indeed, it seems that in some ways the 
people with a culture of poverty suffer less from alienation than do 
those of the middle class. However, on the whole it seems to me that 
it is a thin, relatively superficial culture. There is a great deal of 
pathos, suffering, and emptiness among those who live in the culture 
of poverty. It does not provide much support or satisfaction, and its 
encouragement of mistrust tends to magnify helplessness and isola- 
tion. Indeed, the poverty of culture is one of the crucial aspects of the 
culture of poverty. 

The concept of the culture of poverty provides a high level of 
generalization that, hopefully, will unify and explain a number of 
phenomena that have been viewed as distinctive characteristics of 

198 The Culture of Poverty 

racial, national, or regional groups. For example, matrifocalitv. j 
high incidence of consensual unions, and a high percentage o{ ho-.: 5 c- 
holds headed by tvomen, rviiich have been thought to be disiintti-, * 
characteristics of Caribbean family organization or of Negro faiRik 
life in the United States, turn out to be traits of the culture of 
poverty and are found among diverse peoples in many parts of tl-.e 
world and among peoples ^vho have had no Iiistoiy' of slaveiy. 

The concept of a cross-societal subculture of poverty enables us 
to see that many of the problems we think of as distinctively our os\n 
or as distinctively Negro problems (or as those of any other special 
racial or ethnic group) also exist in countries where tliere arc no dis- 
tinct ethnic minority groups. This concept also suggests that the elim- 
ination of physical poverty per se may not eliminate the culture of 
poverty, tvhich is a whole rvay of life. 

What is the future of the culture of poverty? In considering this 
question, one must distinguish between those countries in which it 
represents a relatively small segment of the population and those in 
which it constitutes a very large one. Obviously, tlie solutions sdll 
differ in these two situations. In the United States, die major solution 
proposed by planners and social workers in dealing with multiple- 
problem families and the so-called hard core of poverty has been to 
attempt to raise slowly their level of living and to incorporate tlicm 
into the middle class. Wherever possible, there has been some reli- 
ance upon psychiatric treatment. 

In die underdeveloped countries, however, tvhere great masses of 
people live in the culture of poverty, a social-ivork solution does not 
seem feasible.® Because of the magnitude of the problem, psychia- 
trists can hardly begin to cope with it. They have all they can do to 
care for their own gi'owing middle class. In these countries, the 
people with a culture of poverty may seek a more revolutionary 
solution. By creating basic structural changes in society, by redistrib- 
uting ivealth, by organizing the power and giving them a sense of 
belonging, of power, and of leadership, revolutions frequently suc- 
ceed in abolisliing some of the basic characteristics of the culture of 
poverty even when they do not succeed in abolishing poverty itself. 

Some of my readers have misunderstood the subculture of 
poverty model and have failed to grasp the importance of the disunc- 
tion betiveen poverty and the subculture of poverty. In making this 
distinction, I have tried to document a broader generalization, 
namely, that it is a serious mistake to lump all poor people together, 
because the causes, the meaning, and the consequences of povert) 

199 Oscar Lewis 

vary considerably in different socio-cultuial contexts. There is noth- 
ing in the concept tliat puts the onus of poverty on the character of 
the poor. Nor does the concept in any way play down the exploita- 
tion and neglect suffered by the poor. Indeed, the subculture of 
poverty is part of the larger culture of capitalism, whose social and 
economic system channels wealth into the hands of a relatively small 
group and thereby makes for the growth of sharp class distinctions. 

I would agree that the main reasons for the persistence of the 
subcultuie are no doubt the pressures that the larger society exerts 
over its members and the structure of the larger society itself. How- 
ever, this is not the only reason. The subculture develops mechanisms 
that tend to perpetuate it, especially because of what happens to the 
world view, aspirations, and character of the children who grow up 
in it. For this reason, improved economic opportunities, though abso- 
lutely essential and of the highest priority, are not sufficient to alter 
basically or eliminate the subculture of poverty. Moreover, elimina- 
tion is a process that rvill take more than a single generation, even 
under the best of circumstances, including a socialist revolution. 

Some readers have thought that I was saying, “Being poor is 
terrible, but having a culture of poverty is not so bad.” On the 
contrary, I am saying that it is easier to eliminate poverty than the 
culture of poverty. I am also suggesting that the poor in a precapital- 
istic caste-ridden society like India had some advantages over modern 
urban slum dwellers because the people were organized in castes and 
panchayats and this organization gave them some sense of identity 
and some strength and power. Perhaps Gandhi had the urban slums 
of the West in mind when he wrote that the caste system was one of 
the greatest inventions of mankind. Similarly, I have argued that the 
poor Jews of eastern Europe, with their strong tradition of literacy 
and community organization, were better off than people with the 
culture of poverty. On the other hand, I would argue that people 
with the culture of poverty, with their strong sense of resignation and 
fatalism, are less driven and less anxious than the striving lower- 
middle class, who are still trying to make it in the face of the greatest 


1 . Although the term “subculture of poverty" is technically more accurate, I 
shall use "culture of poverty” as a shorter form. 

2 . Although the model presented here is concerned with conditions in con- 

200 The Culture of Poverty 

temporary urban slums, I find remarkable similarities behveen the culture oi 
poverty and the way of life of Negro slaves in the antebellum South of thl 
United States. 

3. In terms of Hyman Rodman’s concept of "The Lower-Class Value Stretch" 
Social Forces, XLII, No. 2 (December 1963) , I would say that the culture of 
poverty exists where this value stretch is at a minimum, that is, where the belief 
in middle-class values is at a minimum. 

4. Compadrazgo is a system of relationships and obligations betrceen god- 
parents (padrinos) and godchildren (ahijados) and between godparents and 
parents, rvho are compadres. 

5. It may be that in the slums of Calcutta and Bombay an indpient culture 
of poverty is developing. It would be highly desirable to do family studies there 
as a crucial test of the culture of poverty hypothesis. 

6. Frantz Fanon, The Wretched of the Earth (New York; Grove Press, 1965), 
p. 103. 

7. “The present Partido Estadista Republicano (PER) is the inheritor of 
the coalition Republican Union Party of the thirties and early forties. As such 
it is deeply committed to the continuance of the juridical presence of the United 
States in Puerto Rico; but this commitment has only recently been expressed 
exclusively in terms of statehood. . . . 

. . The Partido Estadista Republicano, unlike the Partido Popular Demo- 
cratico, is formally affiliated with one of the national parties of the United States. 
The affiliation of the mainland and insular Republican parties dates from 1903, 
and with the exception of a brief interlude between 1916 and 1919, during which 
the bonds were formally dissolved, the affiliation has continued uninterrupted to 
the present day. Federal patronage jobs in Puerto Rico now consist of only the 
customs collector, the United States attorney for the Puerto Rico district, hco 
assistant federal attorneys, the federal mar^al, the director of the Caribbean 
area office of the Production and Marketing Administration, and svhen vacancies 
occur, postmasters and rivo federal district judges.” From Robert IV. Anderson, 
Party Politics in Puerto Rico (Stanford, Calif.; Stanford Unhersity Press, 1965), 
pp. 81, 91. 

8. Indeed, it is doubtful how successful the social-work solution can be in 
the United StatesI 

chapter 8 

^ Culture and Class in the Study 

of Poverty: An Approach to Anti-Poverty 
Research Herbert j. cans 


Poverty research, like all social research, is suffused ivith the cultural 
and political assumptions of the researcher. Consequently, perhaps 
the most significant fact about poverty research is that it is being 
carried out entirely by middle-class researchers 'who differ — in class, 
culture, and political power — from the people they are studying. 
Such researchers — and I am one of them — are members of an 
affiuent society, who, ho^vever marginal they may feel themselves 
to be, are investigating an aggregate that is e.xcluded from that 
society. '\^Tlatever the researcher’s political beliefs — and students of 
poverty span the political spectrum — this difference in class position 
affects his perspective, particularly at present when the new social- 
science literature on poverty is little more than impressionistic. Con- 
sequently, the researcher’s perspective is often built on random ob- 

This chapter was prepared for a seminar of the American Academy of Arts and 
Sciences, and all rights to it are reserved by the Academy. The paper was stimu- 
lated by Walter Miller’s oral presentation at that seminar. A preliminary version, 
"Poverty and Culture,” was prepared for the International Seminar on Poverty, 
University of Esse.x, April 1967, which drew in part on an earlier paper, "Some 
Unanstvered Questions in the Study of the Lower Class,” ■written in 1963. All 
versions are indebted to the work of Hylan Letvis, particularly his "Culture, Class 
and the Behavior of Low Income Families,” reprinted in Culture, Class and Pov- 
erty (%\'ashington; Cross-Tell, 1967) , pp- i3-42- I would like to thank Dr. Moyni- 
han and the Academy for allowing me to include the paper as Chapter 22 of my 
People and Plans: Essays on Urban Problems and Solutions (New York; Basic 
Books, Inc., 19G8) pp. 321-346, prior to its publication in this volume. 

202 Culture and Class in the Study of Poverty 

servations and untested assumptions and may include inaccurate 
folklore about the poor that he has unconsciously picked up as a 
middle-class person. As a result, “social science views (of povert)) 
inevitably grow out of the more common sense viesvs.” i 

Moreover, poverty researchers, like otlier affluent Americans 
have had to grapple -with tlie question of hosv to explain the exist- 
ence of an underclass in their society. In a fascinating paper, Rain- 
water has recently described five explanatory perspectives that, as he 
puts it, “neuti'alize the disinherited" by considering them either im- 
moral, pathological, biologically inferior, culturally different, or 
heroic. As his terms indicate, these “explanations" are by no means 
all negative, but they enable the explainers to resolve their anxiety 
about the poor by viesving tliem as different or unreal.^ 

Raimvater’s list is a sophisticated and updated version of an 
older, more familiar, explanatory perspective that judges the poor as 
deserving or tindeserving. This dichotomy still persists today, albeit 
tritlr different terminologies, for it poses the basic political question 
of rvhat to do about poverty. If tire poor are desendng, they are 
obviously entitled to admittance into the affluent society' as equals 
tvith all the economic, social, and political redistribution this entails; 
if they ai'e undeserv'ing, tliey need not be admitted, or at least not 
until they have been made or have made themselves deserving. 

The history of American poverty research can be described in 
terms of this moral dichotomy. Most of the lay researclrers of the 
nineteentli century' felt tire poor were personally and politically im- 
moral and tlierefore undesen'ing.^ Although some researchers under- 
stood that the moral lapses of the poor stemmed from economic 
deprivation and related causes, most offered a cultural explanation, 
indicting the non-Puritan subcultures of the Irish and Eastern and 
Soutliern Em'opean immigrants.^ These high-born obsen,'ers, Avho 
tvere struggling to maintain the cultural and political dominance of 
the Protestant middle and upper classes against the flood of newcom- 
ers, proposed that poverty could be dealt irith by ending die Euro- 
pean immigration and by Americanizing and bourgeoisify'ing the 
immigrants ■who had already come.® 

Social scientists took up the study of poverty in the nrentieth 
century' irithout an explicit political agenda and also changed the 
terminology'. They saw the poor as suffering from individual pathol- 
ogy or from social disorganization; they treated them as defiaent 
rather than undeserving, but there ^vas often the implication that the 
deficiencies had to be corrected before the poor ■were deserving of 

203 Herbert J. Cans 

This conception of the poor spawned a generation of counter- 
vailing research that identified positive elements in their social struc- 
tiure and culture.® Although many of the studies were done among 
the working class populations, the findings suggested or implied that 
because the poor -were not disorganized, socially or individually, they 
were therefore deserving. 

At the present time, the debate over the moral quality of the 
poor is most intense among the practitioners of public welfare and 
anti-poverty programs. Today’s advocates of undeservingness see the 
poor as deficient in basic skills and attitudes. Educators who share 
tills view describe them as culturally deprived; social workers and 
clinical psychologists find them weak in ego strength, and community 
organizers view them as apathetic. Professionals who believe the poor 
to be deserving argue that the poor are not deficient but deprived; 
they need jobs, higher incomes, better schools, and "maximum feasi- 
ble participation”; "resource strategy equalization” in Lee Rain- 
water’s terms, rather than just services, such as training and counsel- 
ing in skills and ivays of living that lead to cultural change.'^ 

Today’s social scientists have debated an only slightly different 
version of the same argument. Some feel that the poor share the values 
and aspirations of the affluent society, and if they can be provided 
with decent jobs and other resources, they will cease to suffer from the 
pathological and related deprivational consequences of poverty. Ac- 
cording to Beck’s review of the recent poverty literature, however, 
many more social scientists share tlie feeling that the poor are defi- 
cient.® Yet, others, particularly anthropologists, suggest that poverty 
and the lowly position of the poor have resulted in the creation of a 
separate lower-class culture or a cultiure of poverty, which makes it 
impossible for poor people to develop the behavior patterns and 
values that would enable them to participate in the affluent society. 

Although few social scientists would think of characterizing the 
poor as deserving or undeserving, at least explicitly, those who argue 
that the poor share the values of the affluent obviously consider them 
as ready and able to share in the blessings of the affluent society, 
whereas those who consider them deficient or culturally different 
imply that the poor are not able to enter affluent society until they 
change themselves or are changed. Walter Miller argues that the poor 
do not even want to enter the affluent society, at least culturally, and 
his analysis implies that the poor are deserving precisely because they 
have their own culture. Even so, those who see the poor as deficient 
or culturally different often favor resource-oriented anti-poverty pro- 
grams, just as those who feel that the poor share the values of the 

204 Culture and Class in the Study of Poverty 

affluent society recognize the existence of cultural factors that block 
the escape from poverty. 

The ghetto rebellions have, however, encouraged a popular 
vival of the old moral terminology. The Negro poor, at least, are now 
seen by many whites as undeserving; they have rioted despite the 
passage of civil rights legislation and the War on Poverty and should 
not be rewarded for their ungrateful behavior.® Observ'ers who feel 
the Negro poor are deserving, on the other hand, claim that the 
rebellions stem from the failure of white society to grant the eco- 
nomic, political, and social equality it has long promised and tliat 
rioting and looting are only desperate attempts by the poor to obtain 
the satisfactions that the affluent society has denied them. 

THE poor: neither deserving nor undeserving 

Because of its fundamental political implications and its moral 
tone, the debate about whether the poor are deserving or undeserv- 
ing will undoubtedly continue as long as there are poor people in 
America. Nevertheless, I feel that the debate, however conceptual- 
ized, is irrelevant and undesirable. The researcher ought to look at 
poverty and the poor from a perspective that avoids a moral judg- 
ment, for it is ultimately impossible to prove that the poor are more 
or less deserving than the affluent. Enough is now known about the 
economic and social determinants of pathology to reject explanations 
of pathology as a moral lapse. Moreover, since there is some evidence 
that people's legal or illegal practices are a function of their opportu- 
nity to earn a livelihood in legal ways, one cannot know whether the 
poor are as law-abiding or moral as the middle class until they have 
achieved the same opportunities — and then, the issue will be irrele- 

It is also undesirable to view the poor as deserving or undeserv- 
ing, for any judgment must be based on the judge’s definition of 
deservingness, and who has the ability to formulate a definition that 
is not class-bound? Such judgments are almost always made by people 
who are trying to prevent the mobility of a population group tliat is 
threatening their own position, so that the aristocracy finds the 
nouveau riche undeserving of being admitted to the upper class; the 
cultural elite believes the middle classes to be undeserving partakers 
of "culture”; and many working-class people feel that people who do 
not labor with their hands do not deserve to be considered workers. 
Still, almost everyone gangs up on the poor; they are judged as 

205 Herbert J. Gans 

undesendng by all income groups, becoming victims of a no-svin 
moral game in tvhich they are expected to live by moral and legal 
standards that few middle-class people are capable of upholding. 
Deservingness is thus not an absolute moral concept but a means of 
prev'enting one group’s access to the rights and resources of another. 

The only proper research perspective, I believe, is to look at the 
poor as an economically and politically deprived population whose 
behavior, values — and patliologies — are adaptations to their existen- 
tial situation, just as the behavior, values, and pathologies of the 
affluent are adaptations to their existential situation. In both in- 
stances, adaptation results in a mixture of moral and immoral, legal 
and illegal practices, but the nature of the mix is a function of the 
existential situation. Since the standards of law — and even of 
moralit}’ — of an affluent society are determined by the affluent mem- 
bers of that society, the poor are, by definition, less law-abiding and 
less moral, but only because they are less affluent and must therefore 
adapt to different existential circumstances. 

If the poor are expected to liv'e up to the moral and legal stand- 
ards of the affluent society, however, the only justifiable anti-poverty 
strategy is to give them the same access to resources now held by the 
affluent, and to let them use and spend these resources with the same 
freedom of choice that is now reserved to the affluent. 

The remainder of the chapter will elaborate this perspective, par- 
ticularly around the debate over class and culture among the poor, 
spelling out some of the implications for both sodal-science theory 
and anti-poverty polity. I should note that when referring to “the 
poor,” I shall refer principally to those people who have presumably 
been poor long enough to dev'elop cultural patterns associated with 
poverty and are permanently rather than temporarily poor. 


The argument between those who think that poverty can best be 
eliminated by providing jobs and other resources and those who feel 
that cultural obstacles and psychological deficiencies must be over- 
come as well is ultimately an argument about social change, about 
the psychological readiness of people to respond to change, and about 
the role of culture in change. The advocates of resoiurces are not 
concerned explicitly with culture, but they do make a cultural 
assumption: Whatever the culture of the poor, it will not interfere in 

206 Culture and Class in the Study of Poverty 

people’s ability to take advantage of better opportunities for cS-*. - 
ing economic resources. They take a situational A-iew of social 
and of personality; that people respond to the situations—;-: 
opportunities — aA'ailable to them and change their beliavior 
ingly. Those tvho call attention to cultural (and psyclioloeicall o'-- 
stades, hosvever, are taking a cultural view of social change, whid- 
suggests that people react to change in terms of prior \-a!uc$ ar! 
behavior patterns and adopt only those changes tliat arc concrucr.: 
Avith their culture.!^ 

Since academicians have been caught up in tlie debate over (k 
servingness and undeservingness as much as the rest of 
society, the situational and cultural views of change have frcqucnib 
been described as polar opposites, and theorists have battled over the 
data to find support for one pole or the other. Clearly, the truth lie? 
somewhere in between, but at present, neither the data nor the con- 
ceptual framework to find tliat truth is as yet available. 

The situational view is obviously too simple; people arc no: 
automatons who respond either in the same way or witli the same 
speed to a common stimulus. Despite a middle-class inclination on 
the part of researchers to view the poor as homogeneous, all available 
studies indicate that there is as much variety among tlicm as amon; 
the affluent. Some have been poor for generations, others arc poor 
only periodically; some are downwardly mobile; others arc upwardi) 
mobile. Many share middle-class values, others embrace tvorking-class 
v^alues; some have become so used to the defense medianisms thev 
have learned for coping with deprivation that they have difficulty in 
adapting to netv opportunities; and some are beset by physical or 
emotional illness, poverty having created pathologies that now block 
the ability to adapt to nonpathological situations.^" Sad to say, there 
is as yet no research to show, quantitatively, what proportion of poor 
people fit into each of these categories. 


The cultural vieiv of social and personal change is also deficient. 
First, it uses an overly behavioral definition of culture that igno.c-s 
the existence of values that conflict Avith behavior; second, it sees 
culture as a holistic system Avhose parts are intricately related, so that 
any individual element of a culture cannot be changed Avithout 
system-Avide rcA’crberations. 

207 Herbert J. Cans 

The behavioral definition identifies culture in terms of how 
people act; it views values as behavioral norms that are metaphysical 
and moral guidelines to behavior, and are deduced from behavior. 
For example, Walter Miller sees values as "focal concerns” that stem 
from, e.xpress, and ultimately maintain behavior. As he puts it, “the 
concept ‘focal concern’ . . . reflects actual behavior, -whereas ‘value’ 
tends to ivash out intracultural differences since it is colored by no- 
tions of the ‘official’ ideal.” J® This definition, useful as it is, pays 
little or no attention to aspirations, values that express the desire for 
alternative forms of behavior. 

The behavioral conception of culture can be traced back to 
anthropological traditions and to the latent political agendas of 
anthropological researchers. The fieldworker who studied a strange 
culture began by gathering artifacts, and as antlmopology matured, 
he also collected behavior patterns. The cultural relativist, -^vho 
wanted to defend these cultures against involuntary change, sought 
to shotv that the beha\'ior patterns were functional to the surt'ival of 
the group, and how people felt about their behavior did not interest 
him unduly. He noted that infanticide was functional for tlie sur- 
vival of a hunting tribe, but he did not devote much attention to 
how people felt about the desirability of infanticide or about less 
deadly patterns of culture. 

His approach may have been valid at its time; it was in part a 
reaction against nineteentli-century idealism tliat identified culture 
solely ivith aspirations and ivas not interested in ho^v people really 
behaved. The behavioral vierv of culture ivas also a useful tool to 
fight the advocates of colonialism who vie-ived all cultures in terms of 
the aspirations of their own tvestern society and rvere ready to alter 
any culture they encountered to achieve their aspirations. Moreover, 
the approach ■\s'as perhaps empirically valid; it may have fit the pre- 
literate group whose cultiure had developed around a limited and 
homogeneous economy and ecolog)'. Tribes -who devoted themselves 
exclusively to agriculture or hunting developed cultures that fit such 
single-minded economies. Such cultures gave their people little, if 
any, choice; they bred fatalists who did not know that alternative 
ways of beha-sdng -were possible, usually because they -^vere not possi- 
ble, and thus left no room for diverging aspirations. 

But such a definition of culture is not applicable to contem- 
porary western society. Many poor people in our society are also 
fatalists not because they are unable to conceive of alternative condi- 
tions but because they have been frustrated in the realization of 

209 Herbert J. Gans 

gence is almost built in; when a variety of cultures or subcultures co- 
exist, aspirations diffuse freely. Among affluent people, the gap be- 
tween aspirations and behavioral norms is probably narrower than 
among poor people; the former can more often achieve what they 
want. Even if they cannot satisfy occupational aspirations, they are 
able to satisfy other aspirations, for example, for family life. The poor 
have fewer options. Lacking the income and the economic security to 
achieve their aspirations, they must develop diverging behavioral 
norms in almost all areas of life. Nevertheless, they still retain aspira- 
tions, and many are those of the affluent society. 

Consequently, research on the culture of the poor must include 
both behavioral norms and aspirations. The norms must be studied 
because they indicate how people react to their present existence, but 
limiting the analysis to them can lead to the assumption that behav- 
ior would remain the same under different conditions when there is 
no reliable evidence, pro or con, to justify such an assumption today. 
As Hylan Lewis puts it, “It is important not to confuse basic life 
chances and actual behavior with basic cultural values and prefer- 
ences.’’ Cultural analysis must also look at aspirations, determin- 
ing their content, the intensity with which they are held, and above 
all, whether they would be translated into behavioral norms if eco- 
nomic conditions made it possible. 

The second deficiency of the cultural view of change is the 
conception of culture as holistic and systemic. When a behavior pat- 
tern is identified as part of a larger and interrelated cultural system 
and when the causes of the pattern are ascribed to “the culture,’’ 
there is a tendency to see the behavior pattern and its supporting 
norms as resistant to change and as persisting simply because they are 
cultural, although there is no real evidence that culture is as un- 
changing as assumed. This conception of culture is also ahistorical, 
for it ignores the origin of behavior patterns and norms. As a result, 
too little attention is paid to the conditions that bring a behavior 
pattern into being — or to the conditions that may alter it. Culture 
becomes its own cause, and change is possible only if the culture as a 
whole is somehow changed. 

This conceptualization is, once more, a survival of a now inap- 
propiate intellectual tradition. Anthropologists started out by study- 
ing small and simple societies that may have been characterized by a 
cultural system whose elements were interrelated. Whether or not 
this was the case, the desire to preserve preliterate cultures en- 
couraged fieldworkers toward holistic functionalism, for if they could 

210 Culture and Class in the Study of Poverty 

argue that any given behavior pattern was an integral part of the 
system and that the entire system might well collapse if one pattern 
was changed, they could oppose the colonialists who wanted to 
change a tribe’s work habits or its religion. 

Sociology used much the same conceptual apparatus; it became 
enamored of such terms as Gemeinschaft and community, Aue^ving 
these as organic wholes that could only be changed with dire results, 
that is, the creation of a Gesellschaft and the city, which were de- 
scribed as atomized, impersonal, and dehumanized groupings. Like 
the antluropological concept of folk culture, Gemeinschaft and the 
organic community bore little relation to real societies, and although 
these terms were formulated as ideal types rather than descriptive 
concepts, they were nevertheless largely romantic fictions generated 
by nostalgia for the past and by the opposition of earlier sociologists 
and antliropologists to urbanization and industrialization.^® It is 
very doubtful whether any past society ever came close to being a folk 
culture or a Gemeinschaft or whether any modern society is princi- 
pally a Gesellschaft. 

The systemic concept of culture is also inappropriate. Modern 
societies are pluralist; whether developed or developing, they consist 
of a diverse set of cultures living side by side, and researchers study- 
ing them have had to develop such terms as subculture, class culture, 
and contra-culture to describe the diversity.^® Holistic functionalism 
is irrelevant, too; no culture is sufficiently integrated so that its parts 
can be described as elements in a system. In modern sociology and 
anthropology, functionalism can only survive by identifying dysfunc- 
tions as well as functions and by showing that cultural patterns that 
are functional for one group may well be dysfunctional for another. 

An ahistorical conception of culture is equally inapplicable to 
modern societies. In such societies, some behavior patterns are per- 
sistent, but others are not; they change when economic and other 
conditions change, although we do not yet know which patterns are 
persistent — and for how long — and which are not. More important, 
culture is a response to economic and other conditions; it is itself 
situational in origin and changes as situations change. Behavior pat- 
terns, norms, and aspirations develop as responses to situations to 
which people must adapt, and culture originates out of such re- 
sponses. Changes in economic and social opportunities give rise to 
new behavioral solutions, which then become recurring patterns, are 
later complemented by norms that justify them, and which are even- 
tually overthrown by new existential conditions. Some behavioral 

211 Herbert J. Cans 

norms arc more persistent than others, but over the long run, all ol 
the norms and aspirations by which people live arc nonpersistent; 
tliey rise and fall with changes in situations."” 

These observations are not intended to question the validity of 
the concept of culture, for not all behavior is a response to a present 
situation, and not all — and perhaps not even most — behavior pat- 
terns change immediately ssdth a change in a situation. A new situa- 
tion svill initially be met with available norms; only svhen these 
norms turn out to be inapplicable or damaging svill people change; 
first, tiicir behavior, and then the norms upholding that behavior. 
Nevertheless, the lag between a change in existential conditions and 
the change of norms docs not mean that norms arc immutable. 


Behavior is thus a mixture of situational responses and cultural 
patterns, that is, behavioral norms and aspirations. Some situational 
responses arc strictly ad hoc reactions to a current situation; they 
e.\ist because of that situation and will disappear if it changes or 
disappears. Other situational responses arc internalized and become 
behavior norms that are an intrinsic part of the person and of the 
gioups in which he moves, and arc thus less subject to change with 
changes in situation. The intensity of internalization varies; at one 
extreme, there arc norms that arc not much deeper than lip scrsicc; 
at the other, there arc norms that arc built into the basic personality 
structure, and a generation or more of living in a new situation may 
not dislodge tlicm. They become culture, and people may adhere to 
them even if they arc no longer appropriate, paying all kinds of 
economic and emotional costs to maintain them. 

The southern svhitc reaction to racial integration offers many 
examples of such intensely internalized norms, although it also offers 
examples of norms that were thought to be persistent but that crum- 
bled as soon as the civil rights movement or the federal government 
applied pressure to eliminate them. Indeed, there are probably many 
norms tliat can be toppled by a threat to exert power or to withdrass- 
rewards; the many cultural compromises tliat first- and second- 
generation ethnics make to retain the affection of their children are a 
good e.xample. Convenely, some norms are maintained simply be- 
cause they have become political symbols, and people are unwilling 
to give them up because this would be interpreted as a loss of power. 
Thus, acculturated ethnic groups often presers-e etlinic cultural traits 

212 Culture and Class in the Study of Poverty 

in order to justify the maintenance of ethnically based political in- 
fluence. The role of power in culture, culture change, and accultura- 
tion deserves much more attention than it has so far received. 

Not all behavioral norms are necessarily conservative; some may 
make people especially adaptable to change and may even encourage 
change. Despite what has been written about the ravages of slavery- 
on the southern Negro, he went to work readily during World '\\’'ar 
II when jobs were plentiful. Similarly, the southern businessman 
operates with behavioral norms that make him readier to accept 
racial change than others; he cannot adhere with intensity to any 
beliefs that will cut into profit. 

To sum up: I have argued that behavior results initially from an 
adaptation to the existential situation. Much of that behavior is no 
more than a situational response that exists only because of the situa- 
tion and changes with a change in situation. Other behavior pat- 
terns become behavioral norms that are internalized and are then 
held with varying degrees of intensity and persistence. If they persist 
with a change in situation, they may then be considered patterns of 
behavioral culture, and such norms may become causes of behavior. 
Other norms can encourage change. In addition, adaptation to a situa- 
tion is affected by aspirations, which also exist in various degrees of 
intensity and persistence, and form an aspirational culture. Culture, 
then, is that mix of behavioral norms and aspirations that causes 
behavior, maintains present behavior, or encourages future behavior, 
independently of situational incentives and restraints. 


This view of culture has important implications for studying the 
poor. It rejects a concept that emphasizes tradition and obstacles to 
change and sees norms and aspirations within a milieu of situations 
against which the norms and aspirations are constantly tested. More- 
over, it enables the researcher to analyze, or at least to estimate, what 
happens to norms under alternative situations and thus to guess at 
how poor people would adapt to new opportunities. 

With such a perspective, one can — and must — ask constantly: 
To what situation, to what set of opportunities and restraints do the 
present behavioral norms and aspirations respond, and how intensely 
are they held; how much are they internalized, if at all, and to what 
extent would they persist or change if the significant opportunities 
and restraints underwent change? To put it another way, if culture is 

213 Herbert J. Cans 

learned, one must ask hoiv quickly and easily various behavioral 
norms could be unlearned once the existential situation from which 
tliey sprang had changed? 

Moreover, supposing tliis change took place and opportunities, 
for example, for decent jobs and incomes ^vere made available to 
poor people, -what behavioral norms, if any, are so deeply internal- 
ized that they interfere, say, -with taking a good job? Ans^vers to this 
question lead directly to polic}' considerations. One alternative is to 
seek a change in norms; another is to design the job in such a fashion 
that it can be accepted without requiring an immediate change in 
strongly persisting norms. Since such norms are not easily changed, it 
may be more desirable to tailor the opportunity to fit the norm 
rather than the other ts’ay around. For example, if the inability to 
plan, often ascribed to the poor, is actually a persisting behavioral 
norm that will interfere in their being employable, rather than just 
an ad hoc response to an uncertain future, it would be wrong to 
expect people to learn to plan at once just because jobs are now 
available. The better solution would be to fit tlie jobs to this inabil- 
ity and to make sure that the adults, once having some degree of 
economic security, tvill learn to plan or will be able to teach their 
children ho-iv to do so. 

The prime issue in the area of culture and poverty, then, is to 
discover ho^v soon poor people will change their behavior, given ne^v 
opportunities, and what restraints or obstacles, good or bad, come 
from that reaction to past situations we call culture. To put it an- 
other tvay, the primary problem is to determine what opportunities 
have to be created to eliminate poverty, how poor people can be 
encouraged to adapt to those opportunities that conflict ^vith per- 
sistent cultural patterns, and how they can retain the persisting pat- 
terns that do not conflict tvith other aspirations. 

Because of the considerable divergence bet^veen behavioral 
norms and aspirations, it is clearly impossible to think of a holistic 
lower-class culture. It is perhaps possible to describe a behavioral 
lower-class culture, consisting of the behavioral norms with ts'hich 
people adapt to being poor and lower class. There is, hotvever, no 
aspirational lower-class culture, for much evidence suggests that poor 
people’s aspirations are similar to those of more affluent Americans. 
My hypothesis is that many and perhaps most poor people share the 
aspirations of tlte -tv’orking class; others, those of the white-collar 
lower-middle class; and yet otliers, those of the professional and man- 
agerial upper-middle class, although most poor people probably 

214 Culture and Class in the Study of Poverty 

aspire to the behavioral norms of these groups — to the ^vays tliey are 
living now — ^rather than to their aspirations. 

Under present conditions, the aspirations that poor people hold 
may not be fulfilled, but this does not invalidate them, for tlieir 
existence — and the intensity with which they are held — can only be 
tested when economic and other conditions are favorable to their 
realization. If and when poor people obtain the resources for whicit 
they are clamoring, much of the behavioral lower-class culture will 
disappear. Only those poor people who cannot accept alternatit^e 
opportunities because they cannot give up their present behavioral 
norms can be considered adherents to a lower-class culture. 

In short, such conceptions of lotver-class culture as Walter Mil- 
ler’s describe only part of the total reality. If Miller’s lotver-class 
culture were really an independent culture ivith its own set of aspira- 
tions, its practitioners tvould presiunably be satisfied ■with their 'way 
of life. If they are not satisfied, however, if they only adapt to neces- 
sity, but want sometliing different, then ascribing their adaptation to 
a lower-class culture is inaccurate. It is also politically undesirable, 
for the judgment tliat behavior is cultural lends itself to an argument 
against change. But if data are not available for that judgment, the 
researcher indulges in conceptual conservatism.®^ 

Miller does not indicate specifically whether the adolescents he 
studied adhered to both a behavioral and aspirational low»er-class 
culture. He suggests that “the motivation of ‘delinquent’ behavior 
engaged in by members of lower-class corner groups involves a posi- 
tive [italics mine] effort to achieve states, conditions or qualities 
valued within the actor’s most significant cultural milieu,’’ that is, 
that the adolescents valued the behavior norms for which they ■^vere 
rewarded by tlieir reference groups. 

Perhaps the Roxbury adolescents did not share the aspirations of 
the larger society; they ivere, after all, delinquents, youngsters ■is'ho 
had been caught in an illegal act and who might be cynical about 
such aspirations. Moreover, the hippies and other “youtli cultures’’ 
should remind us that adolescents do not always endorse the aspira- 
tions of an adult society. The crucial question, then, is hoiv did loiver- 
class adults in Roxbury feel? I would suspect that they ivere less 
positive than the adolescents about their youngsters’ delinquent ac- 
tivities, partly because they are more sensitive to "what Miller classes 
“official ideals,’’ but partly because they do adhere to a non-lower- 
class aspirational culture. 

215 Herbert J. Cans 

My definition of cultiure also suggests a sometvhat different inter- 
pretation of a culture of poverty than Oscar Letvis’s concept. If cul- 
ture is wetved as a causal factor, and particularly as those norms and 
aspirations that resist change, then a culture of poverty would consist 
of those specifically cultural or nonsituational factors that help to 
keep people poor, especially when alternative opportunities beckon. 

Letsds's concept of the culture of poverty puts more emphasis on 
the beha^dor patterns and feelings that result from lack of opportu- 
nity and the inability’ to achie%'e aspirations. According to Let\ds, 

The culture of poverty is both an adaptation and a reaction of the poor to 
their marginal position in a dass-stratified, highly indisdduated sodety. It 
represents an effort to cope vdth feelings of hopelessness and despair srhich 
develop from the realization of the improbability of achieving success in 
terms of the values and goals of the larger sodety.23 

His conception thus stresses the defense mechanisms by which people 
cope t\dth deprivation, frustration, and alienation, rather than with 
poverty alone; it is closer to a culture of alienation than to a culture 
of poverty’. In fact, Letsds distinguishes bedveen poor people with and 
tsdthout a culture of poverty, and in indicating that people can be 
poor ssdthout feeling hopeless, he seems to suggest that the culture of 
poverty is partly responsible for feelings of hopelessness. Moreover, if 
poor people can overcome their malaise and resort to political action 
— or if they live in a socialist society’ like Cuba, in tvhich they are 
presumably considered part of the society — they give up the culture 
of poverty'. “^Vhen the poor become class-conscious or active members 
of trade-union organizations, or w’hen they adopt an internationalist 
oudook on the world, they are no longer part of the culture of 
poverty, although they may still be desperately poor.” 2* 

Letris’s distinction between poverty’ and the culture of poverty’ is 
important, for it aims to separate different kinds of poverty and 
adaptations to poverty’. His emphasis on alienation suggests, however, 
that his concept pertains more to belonging to an underclass than to 
being poor, tvliile his identification of the culture of poverty’ tsdtli 
class-stratified, highly indi^dduated societies suggests that, for him, 
the cultinre is an effect rather than a cause of membership in an 
underclass even though he considers the culture of poverty’ to be a 
causal concept. The various traits of the cultinre of poverty that he de- 
scribes are pardy socio-psychological consequences, pardy situational 
responses, and pardy behavioral norms associated trith underclass 

216 Culture and Class in the Study of Poverty 

membership, but tlie major causal factor is the dass-stratified, highly 
individuated society. From a causal perspective, Lctvis’s concept i« 
thus less concerned ts-ith culture than with the situational factors th.a: 
bring about culture; it is less a culture of poverty tlian a sociology of 
the underclass. 

Whetiier or not tlie families who tell their life histories in 
Lewis’s books adhere to a culture that is a direct or indirect cause of 
their remaining in poverty is hard to say, for one would have to know 
how they tvould react to better economic conditions. Since such d.ita 
are almost impossible to gather, it is difficult to tell how the Sanchc/ 
and Rios families might respond, for example, if Mexico and Puerto 
Rico offered the men a steady supply of decent and secure jobs. Since 
almost all the members of the families aspire to something better, my 
hunch is that their behavioral and aspirational cultures would 
change under improved circumstances; their culture is probably not 
a cause of their poverty. 

As I use the term culture of poverty, then, it would apply to 
people who have internalized behavioral norms that cause or per- 
petuate poverty and who lack aspirations for a better way of life, 
particularly people •whose societies have not let them know change is 
possible — the peasants and the urbanites who have so far been left 
out of the revolution of rising expectations. The only virtue of this 
definition is its emphasis on culture as a causal factor, thus enabling 
the policy-oriented researcher to separate the situational and cultural 
processes responsible for poverty. 

If the culture of poverty is defined as those cultural patterns that 
keep people poor, it would be necessary to also include in the term 
the persisting cultural patterns among the affluent that, deliberately 
or not, keep their fellow citizens poor. When the concept of a culture 
of poverty is applied only to tlie poor, the onus for change falls too 
much on them, when in reality the prime obstacles to the elimination 
of poverty lie in an economic, political, and social structure that 
operates to protect and increase the wealth of the already affluent. 


My definition of culture also has implications for the cultural aspects 
of social stratification. Class may be defined sociologically to describe 
how people stand in the socio-economic hierarchy tvith respect to 
occupation, income, education, and other variables having to do with 

217 Herbert J. Cans 

the resources they have obtained, but it is often also defined cultur- 
ally, in terms of their class-bound ways of life, that is, as class cul- 
ture. Generally speaking, descriptions of class cultures pay little 
attention to the distinction between behavioral and aspirational cul- 
ture on the one hand and situational responses on the other hand. 
Analyses that define class position on the basis of situational re- 
sponses, but ascribe it to culture, make ad hoc behavior seem perma- 
nent and may assign people to long-term class positions on tire basis 
of data tvhich in fact describe their short-run response to a situa- 
tion.25 For example, if poor people’s inability to plan is a situational 
response rather than a behavioral norm, it cannot be used as a cri- 
terion of lower-class culture, although it might be considered a pat- 
tern associated with lower-class position. Class, like culture, should be 
determined on the basis of norms that restrain or encourage people 
in adapting to new conditions. 

Class-cultural descriptions must therefore focus on behavioral 
norms, on the intensity with which they are held, and on people’s 
ability to adapt to new situations. Morever, if culture is defined to 
include aspirations, assignments of class position would have to take 
people’s aspirations into account. Since these aspirations may be for 
working-class, lower-middle-class, or upper-middle-class ways of life, it 
becomes difficult to assign poor people to a single lower-class culture. 
In addition, if the previous criterion of ability to adapt is also in- 
cluded, those who can adapt to change would have to be classified 
further on the basis of whether tlieir aspirations are for one or an- 
other of tlie "higher” classes. The resulting classification would be 
quite complex, but would indicate more accurately the diversity 
within the poverty-stricken population than do current concepts of 
lotver-class culture. More important, the number tvho are, culturally 
speaking, permanently and inevitably lower class is much smaller 
tlian sometimes imagined, for tliat group w'ould include only those 
tvhose aspirations are lotver class and whose behavioral culture pre- 
vents easy adaptation to change. 

This approacli would of course limit the use of current typolo- 
gies of class. Dichotomies such as working class and lotver class, or 
upper-loAver and lotver-lotver class can be used to describe the 
existential condition in which people find themselves and tlie situa- 
tional responses ^v•hich they make, that is, as sociological typologies of 
class, but tliey cannot be used as cultural typologies, for people who 
share the same existential situation may respond with different be- 

218 Culture and Class in the Study of Poverty 

havioral norms and aspirations.2e Combining sociological and cul- 
tural criteria into a single holistic category not only underestimates 
the diversity of people but also implies that they are satisfied ^vith or 
resigned to being lower class. Class culture is thus used to explain 
why poor people remain lower class when in reality their being poor 
and members of an underclass is responsible. No doubt cultural pat- 
terns do play a causal role in class culture, but they must be deter- 
mined empirically. Any other approach would reify the concept of 
class culture and give it a conservative political bias that suggests the 
poor are happy with or resigned to their lot. 

Moreover, dichotomies such as working and lower class are in 
many ways only a sociological version of the distinction between the 
deserving and undeserving poor, even if their formulators had no 
such invidious distinction in mind. These labels are also too formal- 
istic; they only chart the social and economic distances between peo- 
ple on a hierarchical scale. The terms lower or middle class are 
positional; they do not describe people’s behavioral or aspirational 
culture. In fact, they really refer only to the economic, behavioral, 
and status deviations of poor people from the middle classes, for most 
current models of the class system are based on the amount of devia- 
tion from middle-class norms and aspirations. 

Ideally, definitions and labels of class should include substantive 
elements that refer to the major themes of each class culture and that 
indicate the real differences of culture, if any, between the classes. If 
the data for a thematic cultural analysis were available, we might 
discover that there is no distinctive lower-class culture; there are only 
tendencies toward distinctiveness, many of which are but functions of 
the situations with which people must cope and that might disappear 
altogether once situations were changed. 

Sociologists cannot ignore present situations, however, even if 
they are undesirable, and despite my reservations about the concepts 
of class and culture, ultimately I would agree with Lee Rainwater 
when he writes: 

If, then, we take subculture to refer to a distinctive pattern of existential 
and evaluative elements, a pattern distinctive to a particular group in a 
larger collectivity and consequential for the way their behavior differs from 
that of others in the collectivity, it seems to me that there is no doubt that 
the concept of lower class subculture is useful.^t 

I would add only that I am skeptical of the existence of lower-class 
evaluative elements, or what I have called aspirational culture. 

219 HcRBrRT J. Cans 


The lemainder of this chapter attempts to apply the frame of refer- 
ence I have outlined by suggesting some of the questions that ought 
to be asked by researchers and by indicating the methodological 
implications of tlie approach. 

Studies of the poor should give up the notion of culture as 
largely behavioral (with little concern about divergent aspirations) , 
as holistic, and as a peisistcnt causal factor in behavior. Instead, inso- 
far as poverty reseat cli should focus on the poor at all — a point I will 
consider below — it sliould deal with behavior patterns, norms, and 
aspirations on an individual basis, relate them to their situational 
origin, and determine how much the behavioral norms related to 
poverty would persist under changing situations. Whether or not 
tliere is a persisting and holistic culture (or set of subcultures) among 
the poor should be an empirical question. 

In studying beliavioral norms and aspirations among the poor, 
the following questions are most important: Does a given behavioral 
pattern block a potential escape from poverty, and, if so, how? Con- 
versely, are there aspirations related to this behavioral pattern and 
do they diverge from behavior? If so, are they held intensively 
enough to provide the motivation for an escape from poverty when 
economic and other opportunities are available? Are there behavioral 
norms that encourage tliis escape? 

In analyzing the behavior patterns that do block the escape from 
poverty, one must look for the social and cultural sources of that 
behavior. Is the behavior a situational response that would change 
readily with a change in situation, or is it internalized? If it is inter- 
nalized, how does it become internalized (and at what age) , what 
agents and institutions encourage the internalization, and how inten- 
sive is it? How long would a given behavioral norm persist if 
opportunities changed, and what are the forces that encourage its 

Similar questions must be asked about aspirations: What are 
their sources, how are they internalized, and how intensely are they 
held? How responsive ate they to changes in situation, and can they 
enable people to give up poverty-related behavior once economic 
opportunities are available? And what kinds of noneconomic helping 

220 Culture and Class in the Study of Poverty 

agents and institutions are needed to aid poor people in implement- 
ing their aspirations? 

Equally important questions must be addressed to the affluent 
members of society. Indeed, if the prime purpose of research is the 
elimination of poverty, studies of the poor are not the first order of 
business; they are much less important than studies of the economy 
that relegate many people to underemployment and unemployment 
and nonmembers of the labor force to welfare dependency. They are 
also less important than studies of the political, social, and cultural 
factors that enable and encourage the affluent population to permit 
the existence of a poverty-stricken underclass. In the final analysis, 
poverty exists because it has many positive functions for the affluent 
society, for example, by providing a labor force to do the "dirty” 
work of that society. 

Consequently, assuming that lower-class culture is less pervasive 
than has been thought and that poor people are able and willing to 
change their behavior if economic opportunities are made available 
to tirem, one must ask what kinds of changes have to take place in the 
economic system, the power structure, the status order, and in the 
behavioral norms and aspirations of the affluent members of society 
for them to permit the incorporation of the poor into tliat society? 
Which of the functions of poverty for the affluent population can be 
eliminated, which can be translated into functional alternatives that 
do not require the existence of poverty, and which functions abso- 
lutely require the existence of either a deprived or a despised class, or 

In addition, one must ask questions about the affluent society’s 
attitudes torvard behavior associated ivith poverty. Many behavior 
patterns may be the result of poverty, but they do not necessarily 
block the escape from poverty. They do, however, violate rvorking- 
and middle-class values and thus irritate, and even tlireaten, working- 
and middle-class people. For example, the drinking bouts and extra- 
marital sexual adventures that have been found prevalent among 
lower-class people may be correlated with poverty, but they do not 
cause it and probably do not block the escape from poverty. 

They might persist if people had secure jobs and higher incomes, 
or they might not, or they might take place in more private sur- 
roundings as they do in the middle class. But since they shock the 
middle class, one must also ask which behavior patterns must be 
given up or hidden as the price of being allorved to enter the affluent 
society. This question must be asked of affluent people, but one 


221 Herbert J. Cans 

would also have to determine tlie impact of changing or hiding the 
behavior on poor people. In short, one must ask: What changes are 
really required of the lotver class, which ones are absolutely essential 
to the escape from poverty and the move into the larger society, and 
which are less important? 

These rather abstract questions can perhaps be made more con- 
crete by applying them to a specific situation, the set of behavioral 
norms around the female-based or "broken” family. The first ques- 
tion, of course, is: Does this family structure block the escape from 
poverty? Assuming that the answer could be yes, how does it happen? 
Is it because a mother tvith several children and without a husband 
or a permanently available man cannot tvork? Or is the female-based 
family per se at fault? Does it create boys •u'ho do poorly in school 
and on the job and girls who perpetuate the family type •^vhen they 
reach adulthood? If so, is the matriarchal dominance to blame (per- 
haps by “emasculating” boys) , or is it the absence of a father? Or is it 
just the absence of a male role-model? If so, could surrogate models 
be provided through schools, settlement houses, and other institu- 
tions? Or are there deeper, dynamic forces at work that require the 
presence of a stable fatlier figure? Or is the failure of a boy due to 
the mother’s lack of income, that is, a result of her being poor and 
lower class? Or does their failure stem from the feelings of depend- 
ency and apathy associated rvith being on welfare? Or is their fail- 
ure a result of lack of education of the mother that makes it difficult 
for them to implement their aspirations for raising their children to a 
better life? (But lack of income and education is not restricted to 
the female-based family.) 

Next, -what are the social, economic, political — and cultural — 
somrces and causes of the female-based family, and to what situations, 
past and present, does this institutional array of behavioral norms 
respond? Moreover, how persistent are the norms that uphold this 
family type, and what aspirations exist that ■ivould alter or eliminate 
it if conditions changed? If the female-based family is an adaptive 
response to frequent and continuing male unemployment or under- 
employment, as I suspect it is, one must then ask whether the family 
structure is a situational response that would disappear once jobs 
■were available. But if the norms that underlie this family have been 
internalized and would persist even ■^vith full employment, one 
would then need to ask: Where, when, and ho-w are these norms 
internalized? Do the men themselves begin to lose hope and become 
so used to economic inseciurity that they are unable to hold a good 

222 Culture and Class in the Study of Poverty 

job if it becomes available? Do the women develop norms and even 
aspirations for independence, so that, doubting that men can func- 
tion as husbands and breadwinners, they become unable to accept 
them if they are employed? 

Are such attitudes transmitted to the children of female-based 
families, and if so, by u'hom, with what intensity, and at what age? 
Do the boys learn from their mothers that men are unreliable, or do 
they conclude this from the male adults they see around them? At 
what age does such learning take place, and how deeply is it internal- 
ized? If children learn the norm of male unreliability during the first 
six years of their life, would they have difficulty in shedding their 
beliefs under more favorable economic conditions? If they learn it 
when they are somewhat older, perhaps six to nine, would they be less 
likely to internalize it? If they learn this norm from their mothers, is 
it more persistent than if they learn it later from their peers and the 
male adults they see on the street? And at what age does tlie boy 
begin to model himself on these male adults? 

It may be that the entire set of norms underlying the female- 
based family are much less persistent titan the questions in the previ- 
ous paragraph assume. ’iVhether or not they are persistent, however, 
one would have to go on to ask: Under what conditions is it possible 
for people, adults and children, to give up the norms of tlie female- 
based family? ‘\A''ould it follotv quickly after full eraplo)Tiient, or 
would adults who have become accustomed to economic insecurity 
and female-based families pass on these norms to their children even 
if they achieved economic security at some time in their lives? If so, 
the female-based family might persist for another generation. Or are 
there helping institutions that could aid parents and children to give 
up irrelevant norms and speed up tlie transition to the tiro-parent 
family? And, if it ivere impossible to help adults to change, how 
about eighteen-year-olds, or thirteen-year-olds, or six-year-olds? 

Moreover, irhat aspirations exist among the poor for a two- 
parent family? Do loirer-class Negro ivomen really “want” a two- 
parent family, and are their aspirations intense enough to overcome 
tlie behavioral norms that have developed to make them matriarchs? 

In addition, one must also ask ivhat functions the female-based 
family performs for tlie affluent members of society, and ivhat obsta- 
cles the latter might put in the way of eliminating this family type. 
How quickly could they overcome their belief that Negro family life 
is often characterized by instability, illegitimacy, and matriarchy? 
Would they permit public policies to eliminate male unemployment 

223 Herbert J. Gans 

and to proHde higher and more dignified income grants to those -vvho 
cannot tvork? And most important, -would tlrey permit tlie changes in 
tlie structure of re\\"ards and in the distribution of income, status, 
and po'iver that such policies entail? 

If these kinds of questions -^s-ere asked about ever)’ phase of life 
among the poor, it -tvould be possible to begin to detennine -whicli of 
the behavioral norms of poor people are causally associated tvitli 
poverty. I suspect that tlie ansirers to such questions -would sho-\v 
ivhat Hylan Leivis found among tlie people he studied: “The behav- 
iors of the bulk of the lo-w income families appear as pragmatic 
adjustments to external and internal stresses and deprivations expe- 
rienced in the quest for essentially common values.” -® 


If the ultimate aim of reseai'ch is to eliminate poverty, one i\’ould 
also have to ask questions about how to structure new economic and 
noneconomic opportunities to include incentives that -\dll overcome 
the restraints of persisting behavioral norms, -^s’hich might othensdse 
prevent the poor from accepting these opportunities. Current experi- 
ments providing job training and even jobs to tlie unemployed have 
encountered enough failure to indicate quite clearly tliat giving un- 
employed men any kind of job training or any kind of job is not 
enough. Since unemployed youtlis do not have loiver-dass aspirations, 
but ivant the kinds of jobs that considered decent, dignified, and 
status-bearing in -\vorking- and middle-class cultures, tlie neiv oppor- 
tunities must be designed accordingly. 

The first policy question is: IVhat kinds of opportunities have 
highest priority, economic or noneconomic? Assuming tliat the first 
priority is for economic opportunity, what is most important for 
whom, a job or an income grant? And what types of jobs and income 
grants are most desirable? IVhat t)’pe of job -v^’ould actually be con- 
sidered an opportunity by poor people, unemployed or underem- 
ployed, and -what type -^vould be considered inferior to present 
methods of obtaining an income, for example, ivelfare pa)’ments, 
illicit emplo)’ment proHded by the numbers racket, or various forms 
of male and female hustling? 

To ans-wer this kind of question for polity’ guidance -vs’ould re- 
quire an analysis both of job aspirations and of persistent behaHoral 
norms that interfere -trith holding a job. "iVhat elements of a decent 
job are most important to poor people: The wage or salar)’, the 

22-/ Culture and Class in the Study of Poverty 

security of the job, physical working conditions, the social character- 
istics of the work situation, the relationship to the boss, the skills 
required, the opportunities for self-improvement and promotion, or 
the status of the job — and in what order of priority? 

Which behavioral norms function as incentives to holding a job? 
And what are the obstacles: The lack of skills; the unwillingness to 
tvork every day, or an eight-hour day; the pressures to associate with 
the peer group; or the inability or unwillingness to adapt to the non- 
work requirements of the job, for example, dress, decorum, or sub- 
mission to impersonal autliority? What kinds of incentives, monetary 
and otherwise, can overcome these obstacles, and what kinds of train- 
ing programs, job guarantees and social groupings on the job would 
be necessary to "acculturate” people who have never or rarely held a 
full-time job into the society of workers? 

Similarly, what kinds of income grants would provide the best 
means for a permanent escape from poverty for those who cannot 
work and particularly for their children? Is the amount of income 
alone important? If not, how important is the release from stig- 
matization and identification as poor that would be provided by a 
family allowance in contrast to welfare payments or a negative 
income-tax grant? What forms of pa)Tnent will provide the least 
discouragement and the most encouragement to work for people who 
want to be in the labor force? Would across-the-board grants be more 
desirable than a set of categorical grants, such as a family allowance, 
rent supplements, and Medicaid? 

Also, what kinds of noneconomic opportunities are necessary or 
desirable? Would jobs and income grants replace the need for social 
casework, or would people be more likely to ask for help from social 
workers once they no longer depended on them for tvelfare pay- 
ments? And what helping milieu is most effective? Should services be 
provided in special institutions for the poor, or should tlte poor be 
given grants so that they can buy the same services as affiuent people? 
Would poor people prefer to go to a private physician whom they 
pay like everyone else, or to a superior clinic or group practice that is 
set up especially for them? Which alternatives would be most com- 
patible with the behavioral norms and aspirations of different kinds 
of poor people? And what are the benefits and costs of grants for the 
use of private medical and other services compared with the benefits 
and costs of improved services provided expressly for the poor? 

Finally, how long must special opportunities be made available 
before poor people can truly be on their own? How much security. 

226 Culture and Class in the Study of Poverty 

ance, school attendance and school performance, and political par- 

A wide range of experiments is needed to determine (and com- 
pare) the response of poor people to different kinds of new opportu- 
nities, economic and noneconomic: secure and well-paying jobs, a 
guaranteed income without employment, income derived from pub- 
lic welfare, the negative income tax or a family allowance, superior 
education for childi'en, better housing for families, and others. Alter- 
native policies for eliminating poverty must be tested among various 
kinds of poor people, with control groups established wherever possi- 
ble, to measure the impact of the specific policy or policies being 
tested. Such experiments are already coming into being; as this is 
VTitten, the Office of Economic Opportunity has begun an experi- 
ment to test the impact of the negative income tax on work incen- 
tives and other behavior and attitude patterns; the Department of 
Health, Education and Welfare and the Ford Foundation are consid- 
ering tests of the effects of alternative types of income grants such as 
the family alloivance. Other experiments are needed to study various 
employment, job-training, and noneconomic programs. 

Most experiments must be set up de novo, but otliers can treat 
existing social processes as experiments. One approach is historical: 
analyzing the experience of the European immigrants in America 
and their descendants in order to measure, however imperfectly, the 
impact of stable jobs and decent incomes on the cultural patterns 
that they brought witli tliem from Europe. More useful studies could 
be conducted among people, white and non^vliite, \vho have recently 
been able to move out of the slums of American cities, to determine 
what opportunities "were available to them, hotv they took hold of 
these opportunities, and ivhat changes in behavior followed. A com- 
parison of an experimental group that escaped from a ghetto and a 
control group that did not might yield some useful preliminary an- 
swers to die questions raised in tliis chapter.®® 

In addition, it is possible to analyze the various anti-poverty 
programs and demonstration projects noiv going on all over the 
United States as experiments, to see how the participants reacted to 
the opportunities they were offered. Such studies would focus on 
program elements on the one hand and on the behavioral norms and 
aspirations of participants on the odier to determine which program 
elements and cultural factors were responsible for success and which 
for failure. 

The great need is for more experiments. Most social experiments 

227 Herbert J. Cans 

can only be initiated by the government or by well-endowed private 
foundations, but they can only be undertaken if social scientists are 
willing to design them in the first place. If social science is to serve 
the ends of policy, and particularly to help eliminate poverty, it must 
place less emphasis on the study of existing conditions and more on 
experimentation with improved conditions. Such an approach would 
also be fruitful for social-science theory, for it would anstver more 
reliably than current research methods whether there is a culture of 
poverty and a lower-class way of life. 


1. Lee Rainwater, “Neutralizing the Disinherited: Some Psychological As- 
pects of Understanding the Poor,” Pruitt-Igoe Occasional Paper No. 30 (St. 
Louis: Washington University, June 1967 — mimeographed) , p. 2. 

2. Ibid., passim. 

3. See, for example, David Matza, “The Disreputable Poor,” in Reinhard 
Bendix and S. M. Lipset, eds.. Class, Status and Power, 2nd ed. (New York: The 
Free Press of Glencoe, 1966) , pp. 289-303. 

4. For a useful review of these writings, see Robert H. Bremmer, From the 
Depths (New York: New York University Press, 1956) . 

5. See, for exampie, Barbara Solomon, Ancestors and Immigrants (Cambridge, 
Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1956) . 

6. William F. Whyte, Jr., Street Corner Gang (Chicago: University of Chicago 
Press, 1943) : Michael Young and Peter Willmott, Family and Kinship in East 
London (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1957) ; %Yalter Miller, “Lower 
Class Culture as a Generating Milieu of Gang Delinquency,” Journal of Social 
Issues, XIV (1958) , 5-19: Oscar Lewis, The Children of Sanchez (New York: 
Random House, 1961) ; Oscar Lewis, La Vida (New York: Random House, 1966) ; 
Herbert J. Gans, The Urban Villagers (New York: The Free Press of Glencoe, 
1962) ; Hylan Lewis, "Culture, Class and the Behavior of Low Income Families,” 
Culture, Class and Poverty (Washington: Cross-Tell, 1967) . Elliott Liebow, 
Tally’s Corner (Boston: Little, Brown, 1967): Lee Rainwater, this volume, Ch. 9. 

7. Lee Rainwater, this volume, Ch. 9. 

8. Bernard Beck, "Bedbugs, Stench, Dampness and Immorality: A Revieiv 
Essay on Recent Literature about Poverty,” Social Problems, XV (Summer 1967) , 

9. Some ivriters have even resurrected Karl Marx’s pejorative lumpenprole- 
tariat to describe participants in the rebellions, ironically forgetting that Marx 
applied the term to people who did not share his revolutionary aims. Still, it is 
interesting that Marx, who apotheosized the working class, nevertheless felt the 
poor were undeserving, although his pejorative refers to political, rather than 
moral, lapses. Conversely, nineteenth-century American observ'ers felt the poor 
ivere politically immoral for the opposite reason, because they were draivn to 
socialist and Communist movements. 

10. See, for example, Jerome Carlin, Lawyers' Ethics (New York: Russell 
Sage Foundation, 1966) . 

11. See, for example, Louis Kriesberg, "The Relationship betrveen Socio- 
Economic Rank and Behavior,” Social Problems, X (Spring 1963) , 334-353. 

12. Hylan Lewis, op. cit., pp. 17-18. 

13. Miller, op. cit., p. 7. 

14. Ibid., p. 19. 

228 Culture and Class in the Study of Poverty 

15. Ibid., p. 7. 

16. Hyman Rodman, "The Lower-Class Value Stretch," Social Forces, Xm 
(December 1963) , 205-215; Lee Rainwater, this volume, Ch. 9. 

17. Hylan Lewis, op. cit., pp. 38-39. 

18. See Robert A. Nisbet, The Sociological Tradition (New York: Basic Books, 

1967) • 

ig. For more extreme examples of the use of the term culture see Hylan 
Lewis, op. cit., pp. 14-15. See also Jack Roach and Or^’ille R. Gurselin, "An 
Evaluation of the ‘Culture of Poverty’ Thesis," Social Forces, (March 

1967) . 383-392- 

20. For a persuasive illustration see Margaret Mead, New Lives for Old 
(New York: Morrow, 1956) . 

21. For some illustrations of the policy implications of conceptual con- 
servatism, see Frederick S. Jaffe, “Family Planning and Public Poliq-: Is the 
‘Culture of Poverty’ Concept the New Cop-Out?”, paper presented to the Decem- 
ber 1967 meeting of the American Sociological Association, San Francisco, 

22. Miller, op. cit., p. 18. 

23. Oscar Lewis, La Vida, p. xliv. 

24. Ibid., p. xlviii. 

25. See, for example, Kriesbeig, op. cit. 

26. For excellent discussions of this point, see S. M. Miller, "The American 
Lorver Classes: A Typological Approach,” and S. M. Miller and Frank Reissman, 
“The Working Class Subculture: A New View,” in Arthur B. Shostak and 
William Gombeig, eds., Blue-Collar World (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice- 
Hall, 1964) , pp. 9-23, 24-35. 

27. Lee Rainwater, this volume, Ch. 9. 

28. See S. M. Miller, op. cit., p. 20. 

29. Hylan Lewis, op. cit., p. 38. 

30. Zahava Blum has suggested studies of American Indians rvho received 
large cash payments from the government for their resen'ations to determine how 
they spent these funds and what successes and failures they encountered in escap- 
ing from the poverty of reservation life. 

Chapter 9 

^ The Problem of Lower-Class Culture 
and Poverty -War Strategy 


As long as there have been poor people there have been commen- 
tators on their lot. Since the Industrial Revolution, such commentary 
has assumed an important place in political dialogue concerning the 
causes of poverty, the cures of poverty, and social-welfare policy gen- 
erally. As David Matza has shown, there has been a succession of 
fashions in the concepts brought to bear for understanding "the dis- 
reputable poor,” and these fashions have in turn been highly conse- 
quential for the ways in which the larger society has dealt %vith poor 



The concept of a lotver-class subculture has been one of the recent 
mainstays of professional attempts to comprehend the life, the moti- 
vations, the problems, of the least-well-off portion of the population. 
In the sociological and anthropological literature of the past thirty 

I have benefited greatly from comments on an earlier draft of this chapter by 
Alvin W. Gouldner and Norman F. Whitten. Some of the ideas about the lower- 
class subculture as a conceptual issue stem from conversations with Marc J. 
Swartz. The substantive issues dealt with derive in large part from Pruitt-Igoe 
field work (NIMH Grant Number MHogiSg) and analysis carried out by Boone 
Hammond, Joyce Ladner, David Schulz, and William Yancey. I have also profited 
from criticism and comments by Heibert J. Gans, S. M. Miller, Hjman P. Minsky, 
Hyman Rodman, Corinne S. Schelling, and Harold W. Watts. 

2B0 The Lower-Class Culture and Poverty-War Strategy 

years, mo rather different \'iews have been advanced about the 
tinctiveness of lotrer-class norms and values \is-a-vis the larger 
"conventional” society. One of these \'iews, fathered most directly by 
Allison Davis and fm-ther developed by Walter Miller, holds that 
there is a distinctive culture that characterizes those tvho are brought 
up in the lower-class world: 

Now a child cannot learn his mores, social drives, and ^'alues — ^his basic 
culture — from books. He can learn a particular culttnre and a particular 
moral system only from those people tvho knosv this behas-ior and who 
exhibit it in frequent association with the learner. If a child associates 
intimately svith no one but slum adults and children, he will learn only 
slum culture. Thus the pivotal meaning of sodal classes to the student of 
behavior is that they limit and pattern the learning ensdronment; they 
structure the social maze in which the child learns his habits and meanings. 

In the slum, as elsesvhere, the human group evolves solutions to the 
basic problems of group life . . . Because the sliun individual usually is 
responding to a different physical, economic and cultural reality from that 
in which the middle class individual is trained, the slum indiddual’s habits 
and values also must be different if they are to be realistic. The behawor 
which we regard as "delinquent” or "shiftless” or “unmotivated” in slum 
groups is usually a perfectly realistic, adaptive, and — ^in slum life — ^respect- 
able response to reality.2 

By the time, some ten years later, that Walter Miller applied 
these same views to the understanding of gang delinquency', tire as- 
sertion of a distinctive lorver-dass culture was even more sharply 

There is a substantial segment of present day American society svhose way 
of life, values, and characteristic patterns of behavior are the product of a 
distinctive cultural system which may be termed “lorver class.” Esldence 
indicates that this cultural system is becoming increasingly distinctive, and 
that the size of the group -which shares this tradition is increasing ... the 
standards of lotver class culture cannot be seen merely as a reverse function 
of middle class culture — as middle class standards “turned upside down”: 
lo-wer class culture is a distinctive tradition, many centuries old with an 
integrity of its owi.s 

Ranged in apparent opposition to this vietv are the views of such 
more general theorists as Parsons and Merton rvho have seemed to 
maintain that American society possesses a single more or less inte- 
grated system of values, that “it” is “morally integrated’ because 
basic moral sentiments tend to be shared by different actors in tlie 
sense that they approve the same basic normative oatterns of con- 

2B1 Lee Rainwater 

duct.” *■ The contrary view concerning the lack of distinctiveness of 
lower-class culture compared to the rest of society was developed by 
Merton in his essay on social structure and anomie: 

Our egalitarian ideology denies by implication the existence of non-compet- 
ing individuals and groups in the pursuit of pecuniary success. Instead the 
same body of success symbols is held to apply for them all. Goals are held 
to transcend class lines, not be bounded by them, yet the actual social 
organization is such that there exist class differentials in accessibility of the 
goals. . . . "Poverty” is not an isolated variable which operates in precisely 
the same fashion wherever found: it is only one in a complex of identifiably 
interdependent social and cultural variables. . . . When poverty and as- 
sociated disadvantages in competing for the cultural values approved for 
all members of the society are linked with a cultural emphasis on pecuniary 
success as the dominant goal, high rates of criminal behavior are the normal 
outcome. . . . When we consider the full configuration — poverty, limited 
opportunity and the assignment of cultural goals — there appears some basis 
for explaining the higher correlation between poverty and crime in our 
society than in others where rigidified class structure is coupled with dif- 
ferential class symbols of success.^ 

If one wishes, one can construct out of the writings of men such 
as Davis and Miller, on the one hand, and Parsons and Merton, on 
the other, a counterpart of the classic exchange between F. Scott 
Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway. For Fitzgerald, “The rich are 
different from you and me.” Hemingway retorted, “Yes, they have 
more money." The advocate of a distinctive lower-class culture will 
argue the counterpart to Fitzgerald’s notion, “The poor are different 
from you and me.” And the advocate of the universality of societal 
values will argue, “Yes, they have less money.” 

It is an interesting issue, yet its status in sociological and anthro- 
pological writings is a curious one. Neither of the two sets of scholars 
whose views I have presented really dwelled on the conceptual prob- 
lems of maintaining that there does or does not exist a distinctive 
lower-class culture.® The relatively offhand way in which the compe- 
tition between these two concepts developed — with Davis and Miller 
using the concept of lower-class culture merely as preface to the 
presentation of field research concerning lower-class behavior, and 
Merton using his ideas about the dominance of a common “success 
goal"' in American society merely to illustrate his more general theory 
concerning social structure and anomie — has meant that the dialectic 
between these two views has never been fully explored or adequately 
tested against existing and developing empirical research concerning 
lower-class behavior. 

232 The Lower-Class Culture and Poverty-War Strategy 

The result has been that the unthinking application of each of 
these paradigms by subsequent commentators on lower-class behavior 
has sometimes made lower-class persons appear as “conceptual 
boobs/’ to use an expression coined by Harold Garfinkel. To date, 
perhaps the most successful self-conscious attempt to deal with these 
issues has been Hyman Rodman’s concept of the “lower class value 
stretch/’ an adaptive mechanism by which 

the lower class person, without abandoning the general values of the sodety, 
develops an alternative set of values ... (so that lower-class people) have 
a wider range of values than others within the sodety. They share the 
general values of the society . . . but in addition they have stretched these 
values or developed alternative values, which help them to adjust to their 
deprived drcumstances.7 

Rodman’s formulation avoids the pitfall of making lower-class per- 
sons out as "conceptual boobs’’ by not implying that (i) they are 
ignorant of or indifferent to conventional norms and values, or that 
(2) they persist in maintaining full-fledged allegiance to conven- 
tional norms despite their inability to achieve satisfactorily in terms 
of them. 

Since I believe that much of the unclarity and artificial character 
of these two conceptions of the situation of lower-class people stems 
from insufficient attention to the actual exigencies of day-to-day life 
and to the patterned processes of growing up in the group, I want to 
shift now from these larger questions of over-all cultural or subcul- 
tural systems to a closer examination of social and cultural factors 
operating in connection with one particular aspect of lower-class life: 
The question of the regulation of sexual and procreative activities; 
specifically, the question of the normative status of marriage and 
having children. 


I will draw on data from one particular lower-class Negro commu- 
nity. This particular community is the Pruitt-Igoe public housing 
project of St. Louis, a complex of some thirty high-rise buildings with 
a population of about ten thousand persons. Although it is a public 
housing project and one that tends, by default, to be inhabited by 
the least well-off and most damaged families of the Negro loiver class 
(for example, over half the families are supported by public assist- 
ance and over half are headed by women) , our limited field work in 

233 Lee Rainwater 

private slum-housing areas outside of the project suggests that the 
patterns we see are not distinctive to the project but are merely 
exaggerations of much more widespread lower-class patterns. There- 
fore, for purposes of illustration, I will speak of our findings as repre- 
sentative of lower-class Negro life, representative in pattern if not in 

From extensive participant observation by a large staff of re- 
searchers and from surveys, it is possible to piece together a portrait 
of normative and existential views held by this lower-class group. In 
several earlier papers, Pruitt-Igoe staff members have presented some 
tentative formulations of views concerning marriage, sexual behavior, 
and procreation.8 

In this chapter, I want to present data from a questionnaire 
survey of adult project residents carried out in the summer of 1965. 
The survey data, bearing particularly on questions of attitudes, be- 
liefs, and normative considerations, add another dimension to some 
of the material covered in the earlier papers that were concerned 
primarily with an analysis of behavior patterns in the community. 

First, let us examine the question of the normative status of 
premarital sexual relations We asked a random sample of approxi- 
mately fifty men and women in Pruitt-Igoe whether they felt that “it 
matters much if a girl has sexual relations with boys but doesn’t get 
pregnant?” and followed that by asking how important it is "that a 
girl be a virgin when she gets married?” The first question suggests a 
considerable amount of sexual freedom, while the second allows the 
respondent to define a girl who is not a virgin in a more restricted 
way, perhaps as having sexual relations only with a man whom she 
eventually marries. 

In both cases, about half of the men we asked felt that it was not 
important or did not matter much whether a girl was sexually active 
or not, but the responses of the women were somewhat different. Half 
of the women felt that it is important for a girl to be a virgin, and 
half of them did not. However, 80 per cent of the women felt that it 
does matter if a girl is more freely involved in sex with boys even 
though she does not get pregnant. Why they feel this way is perhaps 
more intriguing than the answers themselves. It is often felt to be 
immoral for girls to have sex with boys. Quite aside from the individ- 
ual’s own moral views, it is felt that it is likely to affect her reputa- 
tion and ultimately her chances for establishing a stable marriage 
relationship. Besides, eventually she is going to get pregnant. There 
IS much more frequent support for the view that virginity per se is 
not necessary, that perhaps it is a good idea for a girl to see if she is 

234 The Lower-Class Culture and Poverty-War Strategy 

sexually compatible with the man before she marries him. On the 
other hand, a great many of the women feel that even moderate 
sexual activity with potential husbands represents a danger to the 
girl. They say that the man will not trust her, that he will feel "if she 
does it with him, she’ll do it with others.” However, adherence to the 
desirability of virginity is considerably attenuated by the belief that 
it is a very rare commodity; as one woman commented: "You can't 
hardly find a virgin anymore unless she's five or six.” 

What about premarital pregnancy? We asked our sample 
whether it matters much if a girl gets pregnant but isn’t married. 
Ninety per cent of the women and 6o per cent of the men said that 
it does matter if a girl gets pregnant before marriage, and most were 
able to give compelling reasons why it matters. If marriage takes 
place subsequent to the pregnancy, it is often felt that the marriage is 
unfortunate in tliat it is much more likely to break up as the couple 
discovers that they are not really compatible. If marriage does not 
take place, the child represents a burden to the girl and to her family 
and is believed to weaken her chances for marriage to another man. 
One woman wrapped up the whole issue by saying, "It matters be- 
cause she’s got to explain.” 

Illegitimacy is much too frequent for the people in our sample to 
express horror or great condemnation of it, but getting pregnant 
before marriage significantly exposes the girl and the child to poten- 
tial stigmatization — "she’s got to explain.” 

Although premarital pregnancy means "serious trouble,” it is 
also regarded as a very frequent occurrence. Every one of our respond- 
ents could tell us of situations they knew about in which girls had 
gotten pregnant before marriage. In a rating test in which ^ve asked 
how frequent having a child before marriage is, almost three-quarters 
of tlae men and women characterized premarital pregnancy as very 
frequent in the community. On the sexual histories that were part of 
our survey, 45 per cent of the women reported a premarital preg- 
nancy, 27 per cent of them indicating that the pregnancy was also 
terminated premaritally. 

When we asked how the boys who impregnate girls premaritally 
feel about this we found a very striking indication of the belief that 
men have the primary role in sustaining the high degree of non- 
marital sexual activity. A minority of the respondents said that the 
boys are sor3:7, feel responsible, feel inclined to marry the girl, but 
the majority indicated that boys either do not care and are indiffer- 
ent to the fact that their girlfriends are pregnant, or with surprising 

235 Lee Rainwater 

frequency, that they feel proud because mahing a girl pregnant shows 
that you are a manl “Some of them be proud. They think they are a 
man tvhen this happens.” 

It is apparent that there is a tremendous disjunction betiveen 
behavior and norms about the way things should be. It is apparent 
also that violation of these norms is believed to put girls at least in 
jeopardy in terms of their chances for stable marital relations with 
men. A history of knoivn sexual activity, and particularly a history of 
one or more pregnancies outside of marriage, marks a girl someone a 
man may not trust, a bmrden as a potential wife. 

In such a situation, all kinds of contending beliefs, some of them 
more grounded in reality than others, grow up to provide operating 
codes for the ivorld as it is and not as it should be. The effect of these 
codes is to justify, if they do not fully legitimize, sexual activity 
outside marriage and illegitimac)'. 

One of the most striking, because of its divergence from conven- 
tional norms, is the view' advanced to participant observers by a good 
many men and ivomen tliat "it’s all right if a husband or is'ife each 
step out by themselves sometimes and have a girlfriend or boyfriend 
on the side as long as the other one doesn’t know about it.” In 
our surrey, ire asked respondents whetlier tliey thought tliis happens 
very often and discovered that oi er 85 per cent of them believed that 
it does. Then ire asked whether or not they believed that “many 
people” feel this iray; 70 per cent of them agreed that many people 
do indeed feel this iray. (On botli of these counts there irere no 
differences in the responses from men and iromen, and no differences 
benreen the responses of ivomen ivho irere currently married and 
women irhose marriages irere disrupted.) Hoirever, irhen ire asked 
irhether the respondents beliei'ed that it is actually true that “every- 
thing usually irorks out all right as long as neitlier one knoirs about 
it,” ire found that although some people support the deviant norm, 
the great majority believe that such institutionalized infidelity in- 
eritably causes trouble. A good many believe tliat even if the infidel- 
ity is not discovered it irill repercuss in other irays on tlie couple’s 
relationship; an even larger number assert that sooner or later the 
infidelity irill be discovered and that when this happens it irill in- 
evitably make trouble betireen husband and irife: “ (^Von’t irork) 
because somebody is missing something someirhere. You can’t take 
care of tiro iromen or tiro men. They'll come across each other sooner 
or later.” 

Thus, the “rebellion” that is apparent in the assertion of this 

256 The Lower-Class Culture and Poverty-War Strategy 

counter-norm appears much more a rationalization or a wish than a 
viable alternative norm because in a pinch it is not really supported 
even by those who assert it. 

Because of this permanent availability of men and women, it is 
believed that marriages in the community are highly unstable. We 
asked the survey respondents, ‘‘Out of every ten couples around here 
who get married, how many do you suppose break up, separate, or 
divorce sooner or later?” The mean estimate was that 5.8 marriages 
out of 10 eventually break up. 

When we asked why these marriages break up, we discovered 
that sex rears its ugly head as the most common reason. Slightly over 
40 per cent of the respondents, both men and women, gave as at least 
one of the reasons for breaking up, often as the only reason, a com- 
plex of sexual references that included ‘‘running in the streets,” 
"jealousy,” and more directly “having another lover.” 

It should not be supposed that these responses mean that the 
respondents believe that the spouses in fact are unfaithful, since it is 
also often believed that unfounded jealousy breaks up marriages or 
that unfounded jealousy encourages infidelity. (What the actual 
facts are concerning infidelity in marriage is unclear to us. In the 
sexual histories of the women in our sample, only 8 per cent of the 
women who were currently married admitted having extramarital 
affairs, but 31 per cent of those who were no longer married did 

When the focus is shifted from the abstract — “Why do marriages 
break up?” — to the concrete — “Why did your marriage break up?” — 
the same pattern is apparent. Sixty marriages among the -women in 
our sample had been disrupted by divorce or separation. The distri- 
bution of reasons given for the disruptions is as follows: 

Table 9-1. Cause of Marital Disruption 


Sexual infidelity 4° 

Husband wouldn’t support her; wouldn’t work 87 

Husband lost job and couldn't find another S 

One of the partners was immature (too attached 

to parents, too young) 17 

Husband drank excessively 1 5 

Husband cruel, beat her 15 

Husband gambled too much 7 

Husband in jail 5 

Unspecified incompatibility 82 

Husband just deserted, no reason given 8 

231 Lee Rainwater 

It is apparent that the most common reason given for marital dis- 
ruption is sexual infidelity. (This was almost always on the part of the 
man since the woman is telling her side of the story; if we could talk 
to the departed husbands, they would probably also have some accu- 
sations to make.) The women are, in general, rather uncharitable 
toward their ex-husbands — even with the issue of support all but a 
few of the women seem to feel that the husband was unwilling to 
support them ("he wouldn’t work,” "he wouldn't give me enough 
money”) rather than unable in the sense that he could not get a job 
or earn enough money for the family. 

Obviously, then, lower-class Negroes see their world as one in 
which there are a great many tlireats to the stability of marriage, 
threats that precede marriage, in the form of a sexual activity that 
does not bode well for the trustworthiness or respectability of tlie 
husband or wife, and that continue in marriage in the form of eco- 
nomic instability and the ever-present threat of seduction by “the 
street.” Once the marriage is broken the prospects for a second try are 
even worse since both economic instability and "fidelity instability” 
are enhanced. 

From the analysis of participant-observation data reported in 
previous papers and from the questionnaire material discussed above, 
it is possible to piece together a portrait of how the tvorld appears to 
the Negro lower-class men and women who live in Pruitt-Igoe. Shift- 
ing now from the way Pruitt-Igoeans express their understandings of 
the world and their norms to a language more appropriate to a 
concern with conceptual problems of norms, existential views, and 
deviance from norms, the following would seem to be the essential 
elements of Pruitt-Igoe views concerning marriage, sexual behavior, 
and procreation: 

1. Lifelong marriage is the only really desirable way of living if one 
has the opportunity, if one can manage it. A person fully vested 
with the proper social and cultural characteristics should be able 
to contract and maintain such a marriage provided he can find a 
partner tvho is similarly vested. 

2. In the same svay, cliildren should be bom only in marriage rela- 
tionships; to procreate outside of marriage is to fall importantly 
short of the scay things ought to be. 

3. Any kind of se.xual relationship outside of marriage is a dan- 
gerous tiling, altliough it is also a ver)' attractive possibility. A 
double standard applies in the realm of ideals at least, in that 

238 The Lower-Class Culture and Poverty-War Strategy 

sex outside of marriage is much more dangerous for a ivoman 
than for a man. 

4. In short, there is a little ambiguity about the norms concerning; 
sex and procreation as these apply to hoiv good people tdll be- 
have in a good ^vorld. Sexual and procreative events outside of 
the context of marriage are not normative, and they do in- 
volve costs. 

5. But, and this is still from the perspective of Pruitt-Igoeans, 
ality makes it extremely dilBcult to live up to tliese norms. Re- 
ality must be taken to include not only the individual’s chances 
in the instrumental opportunity structure (his ability to make 
out in the larger world, to get enough education, to hold a job, 
etc.) , but also his chances of resisting the pressures to^s’a^d de- 
viance from his peer group — as he grotvs up he experiences such 
pressures from other boys and girls, men and women, and he 
learns the competing attraction of the “high-life” ■vvmrld. 

6. Therefore, if one does not have very strong resistance, deviance 
from sexual and procreative norms is seen as an almost necessary 
result of participating in the peer-group society. Resistance is 
weakened when one does not possess attributes and abilities tliat 
allow him to make out in more conventional ways — ^^\’hen one 
does not manage to get enough education, hold a job, etc. 

7. Therefore, deviance from these norms is tolerable. The great 
discovery that lower-class people make, which middle- and work- 
ing-class people find so hard to understand, is that it is possible 
to live a life that departs very significantly from the way you 
think life ought to be lived without ceasing to exist, rvithout feel- 
ing totally degraded, without giving up all self-esteem. 

8. Once one learns that such a life is tolerable it is possible for in- 
dividuals to engage in "rebellion” k la Merton. One can call 
into question both the cultural goals and the institutionalized 
means for achieving tliem, and seek to put in their place con- 
trary goals and means that bring action and norms more closely 
in line and thus reduce cognitive dissonance. However, it is 
important to remember that rebellion is not revolution, that the 
pull of the old norms is great, and that very few lotver-class in- 
dividuals end up defining their own interests as lying ideally in 
the support of the deviant norms rather than the conventional 

g. With respect to the central importance of marriage, the com- 
promise solution most frequently adopted in the Negro lower 

239 Lee Rainwater 

class is to marry fairly quickly, particularly in response to the 
pressures of pregnancy or extensive sexual activity that begins 
to look promiscuous, and to hope against hope that the marriage 
will work out and last so that one may achieve conventional 
status. Therefore, lower-class Negro Americans tend to marry 
fairly early rather than to go through a series of mating unions 
(including domiciliary ones) and crown their sexual careers with 
marriage, as in the Caribbean. The corollary of this difference, 
however, is that among urban lower-class Negroes in the United 
States, first marriages very often break up (indeed, a majority 
probably do) , whereas in the Caribbean legal marriage tends to 
be much more stable.® 

10. Expectations concerning widespread sexual activity continue 
tliroughout life to pose a constant threat to the stability of re- 
lationships in which people try to “do right,” to maintain stable 
relationships. The Negro lower class conforms with a vengeance ^ 
to Bernard Farber’s model of permanent availability of all men 
and women as mates.^® Men are seen as the main carriers of this 
tradition, but women are also active participants. Although the 
double standard is seen as representing a more ideal state of af- 
fairs than equality in sexual relations, it is believed that women 
are almost as likely to be “disloyal” to their mates (either mari- 
tally or nonmaritally) as are men. There is evidence, however, 
that to a considerable extent the sexual freedom that women 
claim is reactive to a conception of men as so likely to trans- 
gress that a woman is a "fool” for being single-minded in her 

We can conclude this examination of the Pruitt-Igoe data by 
saying that it seems that lower-class Negro Americans (and lower- 
class Negroes in the Caribbean) share a set of problems in connection 
with bringing their behavior in line with norms concerning sexual 
and procreative activities, and that much of the characteristic behav- 
ior of the group can be understood as their cultural adaptations to 
these problems. The norms support legal marriage and legitimate 
birth as the only really proper way to establish families (but women 
are more dedicated to these norms than men, although both sexes 
recognize their legitimacy) ; yet, the more impersonal socio-economic 
forces and the intimate interpersonal forces of the community mili- 
tate against living up to these norms, and the majority of the popula- 
tion does not indeed live up to them. 

240 The Lower-Class Culture and Poverty-War Strategy 

The result is that a set of more or less institutionalized alterna- 
tives have developed historically for adapting to the actual pressures 
under which men and women live, but these adaptations are not 
basically satisfactory to those w'ho make use of them both because of 
the pains, frustrations, and tensions built into these ways of living 
and because of the vulnerability people feel to attributions of having 
somehow fallen short of full moral status, attributions that are made 
both by oneself and by others. 

Let us turn now to a consideration of the implications of these 
data for llic argument that there exists a distinctive lower-class cul- 



Evocative definitions of culture usually define the concept as refer- 
ring to "a way of life" or "a design for living.” Culture is social 
heredity, transmitted by one generation, learned by another, and 
shared in the particular collectivity that possesses it. More concep- 
tually, culture is a system of symbols that orders experience and 
guides behavior. 

5i/6culturc suggests that within a larger collectivity possessing an 
over-all culture, there arc sufficient variations in designs for living 
that it is ivorth the trouble of tr)'ing to specify several different sub- 
designs because of the consequences these are presumed to have. 
Since the social scientist discovers this culture or subculture by ab- 
straction from the behavior of persons in a group, the decision to 
define subcultures is to a certain extent an arbitrary one. Its arbi- 
trariness is reduced only by the possiblity of demonstrating that the 
differences one believes exist are sufficiently consequential to be of 
use in understanding beliavioral variation within the larger collectiv- 

Culture as social heredity, as transmitted symbol system, involves 
two main dimensions. It involves certain existential predications 
about the world, and it involves an evaluative component specifying 
what is good, not so good, or bad about that which is said to exist. In 
other words, culture involves an "is” component and an "ought 
component. These components are compounded in the inventory of 
elements traditionally said to comprise culture — knowledge, belief, 
technology, values, and norms. As Clyde Kluckhohn observed, the 
existential propositions in a culture always carry implicit in them 

241 Lee Rainwater 

certain evaluation overtones, and equally (for our purposes more) 
important the evaluative elements of culture (values and norms) 
always carry implicit in them certain necessary existential concom- 

If, then, we take subculture to refer to a distinctive pattern of 
existential and evaluative elements, a pattern distinctive to a partic- 
ular group in a larger collectivity and consequential for the way their 
behavior differs from that of others in the collectivity, it seems to me 
that the concept of lower-class subculture is useful. All who have 
studied lower-class people, whether under the influence of the Mer- 
tonian emphasis on general cultural norms, like Cloward and Ohlin, 
or under the influence of strong proponents of class subculture, like 
Allison Davis and Walter Miller, have produced findings concerning 
lower-class behavior and belief that clearly suggest a distinctive pat- 
terning.^2 distinctive pattern consists of elements that are 

shared with the larger culture and ones that are peeidiar to the 
group — it is the configuration of both kinds of elements that is dis- 
tinctive to the lower class. The argument comes not so much in 
whether a lower-class subculture can be said to exist, but in what its 
content is and how it should be characterized. 

About the distinctiveness of the existential perspective of lower- 
class people there is relatively little disagreement. All investigators 
who have studied lower-class groups seem to come up with compatible 
findings to the general effect that the lower-class world view involves 
conceptions of the world as a hostile and relatively chaotic place in 
^vhich you have to be always on guard, a place in which one must be 
careful about trusting others, in which the reward for effort ex- 
pended is always problematic, in which good intentions net very 
little. I am not suggesting that one can find neatly organized in one 
place an exhaustive description of the existential perspectives of 
lower-class persons, but I think one can say that the various ways in 
which different investigators have described this aspect of lower-class 
culture are not in any kind of essential conflict. 

The issue 'with respect to the evaluative aspect of lower-class 
culture, with respect to values and norms, is a much more complex 
one, as we have seen. As Rodman implies, the issue is in some respects 
a false one tliat derives basically from the unrealism of separating the 
normative from the existential. Ever)’ norm predicates several exis- 
tential conditions. These conditions are more often implied than 
clearly stated, but careful observation of concrete social behavior 
suggests that these existential conditioners of norms are central to 

242 The Lower-Class Culture and Poverty-War Strategy 

any understanding of behavior that has reference to norms. The 
existential predications come most clearly to the surface tvhen people 
seek to justify their own deviance from norms. Then it becomes 
apparent that all people take the position that they will live up to 
the norms of their group if they possibly can. That is, conforming to 
norms requires certain kinds of social logistic support. (This is ap- 
parent not only to social scientists but also to the members of a 
societyl) Although people are most sensitive to the necessity for cer- 
tain kinds of resources for living up to norms with respect to their 
own behavior and tend to blind themselves to this aspect of the 
situation when they evaluate other people’s behavior, individuals 
who find themselves in the same boat in lacking resources generally 
develop some understanding tolerance for each other’s deviance. 

Norms with their existential concomitants are perhaps best 
regarded as rules for playing a particular game. That game repre- 
sents one kind of adaptation to the environmental situation in which 
a group finds itself. Individuals in a group negotiate with significant 
others to be allowed to play the normative game — to get into the 
game and to have the resources that will allow them to play it. If the 
individual is not allowed in the game (for example, Negro slaves 
under slavery) , or if he cannot get the resources to play the game 
successfully and thus experiences constant failure at it, he is not 
"conceptual boob’’ enough to continue knocking his head ag^nst a 
stone wall — he withdraws from the game. Instead, he will try to find 
another game to play, either one that is already existing and at hand 
or one that he himself invents.^® Merton’s well-known ^adaptations to 
anomie suggest several different kinds of attempts to create new 
games out of the wreckage of failure to gain admission to and succeed 
at conventional games. 

But what if a good many people cannot play the normative 
game, are in constant communication with each other, and there is 
generational continuity among them? In that case, the stage is set for 
the invention and diffusion of substitute games of a wide variety. In 
the case of New World Negroes, these substitute gains have been 
worked out long ago and subjected to some modification by each 
generation depending on the situation (urban or rural, their labor 
in demand or not in demand, etc.) in which they find themselves. 
Thus, though in the abstract one can analy2e synchronically the 
situation of a deprived group vis-k-vis the larger society and its 
norms, in reality each generation learns the substitute games at the 

243 Lee Rainwater 

same time that it learns the normative ones. To some extent, the 
substitute adaptations of each generation condition the possibilities 
subsequent generations have of adapting in terms of the require- 
ments of the normative games. 

Nevertheless, in the American context at least it is clear that 
each generation of Negroes has a strong desire to be able to perform 
successfully in terms of the norms of the larger society and makes 
efforts in this direction. The inadequacies of the opportunity struc- 
mre doom many to failure to achieve in terms of their oira desires 
and therefore facilitate the adoption of the readily available alterna- 
mes. In tliis i\'ay, the social ontogeny of each generation recapitu- 
lates the social phylogeny of Negroes in the Ne^v "iVorld because the 
basic socio-economic position of the group has not changed in a 
direction favorable to successful achievement in terms of conven- 
tional nojms. 

If a group by some means becomes totally isolated from the 
dominant group ivhose games its members can’t play, they may suc- 
ceed in establishing normative games of their o\ra. But if they con- 
tinue to some e.xtent under the influence of the dominant group, 
their substitute games cannot acquire full normative character. 
Instead, the games may become pseudonormative; the players assert 
to each other that their neiv game has full moral justification, but 
careful observation of actual behavior belies that fact, as Matza has 
shoira, for juvenile delinquents, who sometimes manage to develop 
ideologies that seem to legitimate delinquent actiwty as normative, 
but in is'hich as a matter of fact the delinquents themselves do not 
really believe.^^ 

In short, those segments of the over-aU society ivho control the 
normative game are in a position to arrange conditions so tliat it is 
ver}' difiScult to have a competing game idUi a normative cachet. 
Though the competing games may have to be tolerated because of 
umvilKngness or inability’ to provide ever)one ts-ith the resources to 
play the normative game, as long as the keepers of the normative 
game have sufScient poiver, they are able to frustrate the success of 
efforts to declare the competing games normative. 

Given this power of conventional society, members of the lower 
class are likely to be socialized in such a way that they recognize the 
normative status of conventional games even though they eventually 
discover that their oivn best bets, given the ivorld as it is and as they 
see it, lie idth substitute games. As Goffman obsen’es: 

244 The Lower-Class Culture and Poverty-War Strategy 

The stigmatized individual tends to hold the same beliefs about identity 
that we do ... the standards he has incorporated from the rvider sodety 
equip him to be intimately alive to what others see as his failing, inevitably 
causing him, if only for moments, to agree that he does indeed fall short of 
what he really ought to be. Shame becomes a central possibility, arising 
from the individual’s perception of one of his own attributes as being a 
defiling thing to possess, and one he can readily see himself as not 

Though the substitute games developed in the lower-class ^vorld 
have as perhaps their most important function the insulation of the 
individual from a full and sharp awareness of these facts and of the 
shame that goes with this atvareness, careful observation reveals that 
the stigmatizing standards are nevertheless internalized and have 
their effects. 

These substitute games involve a structure of rules appropriate 
to them, but the rules tend to have a purely operating character. It is 
very difficult for their players to fully institutionalize the rules as 
normative except in a tvay that acknowledges their character as sub- 
stitutes. For example, there are rules about how to make a life that 
retains some sense of self-esteem even though one is the mother of 
illegitimate children. One girl commented that her mother reacted in 
this way to her pregnancy: “She cried, she was hurt. And she told me 
that because I made one mistake, don’t wallow.” 


The argument in this chapter has sought to support the view that 
conventional society manages somehoiv to inculcate its norms even in 
those persons who are not able to achieve successfully in terms of 
them and to prevent any efforts to redefine norms within the lower- 
class subculture in such a way that contrary views acquire full nor- 
mative status. To tlie extent that tliis can be demonstrated to be true, 
it raises further very intriguing issues that are only touched on here. 
By what processes is it possible to persuade lower-class people to 
accept norms that are highly punishing to them and to accept the 
label of deviant or stigmatized persons? 

One of the primary reasons that it is impossible for the lower 
class to institutionalize its own norms is that all individuals in the 
group, to some extent and under some circumstances, will assert the 
validity of conventional norms and the invalidity of substitute 

245 Lee Rainwater 

norms. Even in Jamaica, in which nonlegal unions are in the major- 
ity, 20 per cent of all first unions, and a somewhat higher proportion of 
the first domiciliary unions, involve legal marriage. There are, in 
short, too many “squares” around to interfere with efforts to negate 
the conventional norms. These individuals to some extent counter 
the existential challenge to the norms by demonstrating that it is 
possible to live up to them even with very few resources. In addition, 
they acquire a vested interest in derogating and demeaning those 
around them who do not live up to the norms. To the extent that 
such persons have power and prestige in the informal social networks 
of the lower-class community, they are able to operate against an 
overtlu'ow of the norms. 

The sliding scale of leniency in evaluating deviation for "me,” 
"thou,” and "the other fellow” means that even individuals who are 
themselves involved in playing deviant games will, on occasion, par- 
ticularly when angry and in a mood to degrade the status of others, 
assert the validity of the norm even as this behavior, because it rein- 
forces existential beliefs about the difficulty of living up to the norm, 
reinforces deviance. 

The aging process also has something to do with sustaining the 
validity of conventional norms. The older people become in a lower- 
class community, the more conventional their views tend to become 
and probably the less deviant their behavior is likely to be (at least 
in terms of frequency) . This means that in their contest with younger 
persons for the right to define what is and should be, and to control 
the social and perhaps economic resources of the group, they acquire 
a vested interest in supporting conventional norms against younger 
persons who are more likely to challenge them. Thus, not only is 
there conflict between men and women, with women upholding con- 
ventional norms more readily than men, but there is also conflict 
between young and old. While women and older persons have to 
accept a great deal of behavior that is deviant from conventional 
norms, they do not have to like it when they feel that it costs them in 
terms of life chances and respect. 

These conflicts at the interpersonal level are given expression in 
certain indigenous lower-class institutions that tend to be organized 
(at least in part) around the support of conventional norms. In the 
Negro community, the church is particularly important here since 
most of the verbal content of church sermons and Christian religios- 
ity is solidly in support of conventional norms. The conflict is, how- 
ever, built into the church no less than informal social relations by 

246 The Lower-Class Culture and Poverty-War Strategy 

the counter-message conveyed by church music and ecstatic behavior 
during church services. 

Finally, almost all of the external institutions with which lower- 
class people come into contact are fairly solidly ranged in support of 
conventional norms. These institutions can sometimes punish lower- 
class people directly for not living up to conventional standards, and 
(perhaps more important) functionaries of these institutions are con- 
stantly engaged in demeaning and derogating the status of lower- 
class people, being especially sensitive to indications that lower-class 
people are not "respectable" in their behavior and attitudes. It seems 
very likely that the major power sustaining the salience of conven- 
tional norms comes from this kind of day-to-day contact with con- 
ventional functionaries in schools, stores, work places, public agen- 
cies, and the like. What comes across most clearly to the lower-class 
person in these settings is that he would be much better off if he were 
able to live in a conventional way because other people would not 
“bug him" so much. 

In short, I am suggesting that the key to understanding how 
conventional society manages to maintain its norms lies in under- 
standing the concerted effects of the operation of those who sustain 
the norms within the community (family and neighbors) and of 
those outside the community who sustain them by effectively punish- 
ing (and perhaps sometimes rewarding) . 


The end result of these various processes is the development and 
maintenance of a lower-class subculture that is distinctive yet never 
free of the heavy hand of conventional culture and its norms. Lower- 
class subculture acquires limited functional autonomy from conven- 
tional culture just as the social life of the lower class has a kind of 
limited functional autonomy vis-i-vis the rest of society. As Gouldner 
has observed, the phenomenon of functional autonomy in a social 
system arises in situations in which the demands of full functional 
integration are too great for the resources available in the system.^® 
A compromise solution is for subunits of the system to pull 
apart, to survive more on their own since they cannot survive to- 
gether in the one big happy family of a functionally integrated so- 

This functional autonomy of the lower class is in the interest of 

2t7 Lee Rainwater 

botli the larger society and of the lower class. The lower class requires 
breathing room free from the oppressive eye of conventional society 
and therefore from the oppressive application of conventional norms. 
Conventional society is freed from the necessity of facing up to the 
pain and suffering that it has ■wrought; conventional culture is re- 
lieved of the necessity of confronting the fact that norms are con- 
stantly flaunted and that the social control mechanisms that are sup- 
posed to ensure obsen-ance of the norms cannot operate effectively. 

Loiser-dass subculture, then, can be regarded as the historical 
creation of persons “who are disinherited by their societ)', persons ■ssho 
have adapted to the tu'in realities of disinheritance and limited func- 
tional autonomy for their group by des-eloping existential perspec- 
tives on social reality (including the norms and practices of the large 
society) that allotv them to stay alive and not lose their minds, that 
allow them some modicum of hope about a reasonably gratifying life, 
and that preserve for many the slim hope that someho'w they may be 
able to find admittance for themselves or their children to the larger 


society. In line ■with these existential perspectives, lo^n'er-class culture 
has developed as the repository of a set of suiwival techniques for 
functioning in the ■ivorld of the disinherited Over time, these sur- 
VB^nl techniques take on the character of substitute games, ■with their 
otm rules guiding behavior. But, as has been suggested above, these 
operating rules seldom sustain a lasting challenge to the validity of 
the larger society’s norms governing interpersonal relations and the 
basic social statuses involved in marriage, parent-child relations, and 
the like. 

Discussions of loicer-class cultrue in isolation from the social, 
economic, and ecological setting to ■^vhich that culture is an adapta- 
tion r\-ill generally prove to be misleading (and ■vrith respect to 
policy, pernicious) . The dyn ami c adaptational quality of any culture 
must be at the center of attention if social process and social change 
are to be understood In the case of planned social change directed to 
soh'ing problems of American poverty, this means that an apprecia- 
tion of lor\'er-clas5 culture as an element of lo^sver-class life requires 
pari passu a systematic examination of the day-in-day-out social situ- 
ation for ■^chich that culture provides the tools for folk understand- 
ing, e-saluation, and adaptation. 

The lorver-dass world is defined by tivo tough facts of life as it is 
experienced from day to day and Lorn birth to death: deprivation 
and exclusion. The lorver class is deprived because it is excluded 
from the ordinary run of a^verage American worldng- and middle-class 

248 The Lower-Class Culture and Poverty-War Stratc^ 

life, and it is excluded because it is deprived of the resources nccti- 
sary to function in the institutions of the mainstream (which is after 
all working, and not middle, class) of American life. The most b.u;: 
deprivation is, of course, low family income, but from this depri\-a. 
tion flows the sense so characteristic of losver-class groups of not hav- 
ing the price of admission to participation in the many different 
kinds of rewards that ordinary society offers; some of tliese cost 
money, but a good many others (education, for example) do not. 

In short, those avho grow up in the worlds of poverty learn that 
they are not able to find enough money to live in what they, and 
everyone else, would regard as the average American way. Because of 
inability to find work or very low pay, they learn that tlie best that 
they can hope for if they are “sensible” is despised housing, an in- 
ferior diet, and a very few of the available pleasures. Because of tlicir 
economic disadvantage, they are constrained to live among other 
individuals similarly situated, individuals who, the experience of 
their daily lives teaches them, are dangerous, difficult, out to exploit 
or hurt them in petty or significant ways. And they learn that in their 
communities they can expect only inferior serv'ice and protection 
from such institutions as the police, tire courts, the schools, the sani- 
tation department, the landlords, and the merchants. In short, they 
live in a society that is structured to make life livable for average 
people, and they learn that people with incomes significantly below 
average simply cannot move around freely and confidently in such a 
society. By their very peers and even more by their "superiors," loiver- 
class people are deprived of a right that even tlie most uncivilized 
and primitive people that antlmopologists have studied routinely ac- 
cord their members. That is, the right to consider oneself and to be 
considered by others a worthwhile and valid representative of the 
human race. 

The ways of living that lower-class people work out represent 
adaptations to this disjunction between the demands society makes 
for average functioning and the resources they are able to command 
in tlieir own day-to-day lives. 


If, then, the situation of the lower class is defined roost basically by 
social and economic exclusion and by an anomic and threatening 

249 Lee Rainwater 

world that grows up in response to that exclusion, we can begin to 
see some of the ways in which change in the situation of lower-class 
people might be brought about on a major scale instead of on a 
merely palliative and individual rescue-operation scale. 

Each of the contrasting views of the situation of the lower class 
discussed above tends toward different and distinctive sets of policy 
implications in terms of strategy for dealing with problems of pov- 
erty. The third view, the adaptational view of lower-class culture, 
which is an effort to bring about some synthesis of these two views, 
also tends toward a distinctive set of social policy guidelines for an 
effective program to deal with problems of poverty. 

If one takes the extreme, common-American-culture point of view 
as represented most clearly by Merton and his students, one is led 
toward policies that emphasize “opportunity” rather than more radi- 
cal alterations in the socio-economic system. That is, it is argued that 
the lower class are basically ordinary Americans who happen to be 
caught in an unfavorable situation for achieving their common 
American desires. It is necessary only to provide them with the ordi- 
nary means to the achievement of these desires, for example, with 
such things as job-training programs, more thoughtful and seriously 
undertaken education programs to replace the poorly equipped and 
staffed schools that are available to them, perhaps some counseling to 
make them aware of the opportunities that are available to them in 
the outside world, etc. In other words, the intervention that is re- 
quired is basically the fairly superficial one of providing realistic 
access to means of achieving the level of income and other kinds of 
functioning that are necessary to be part of regular society. In pur- 
suing an opportunity strategy, however, one becomes aware of all of 
the many obstacles to making opportunities realistically available 
that exist in the elaborate private and public bureaucracies that 
provide jobs, welfare services, educational services, and the like. 
Therefore, the opportunity strategy will tend eventually to focus 
one’s attention on the failures and incompetence of the institutional 
framework that theoretically has the task of furthering equality of 

This is the perspective that informed much of the war on pov- 
erty as it was initiated. The goal of the war was not to directly 
provide resources that would cancel out poverty, but to provide op- 
portunities so that people could achieve their own escape from 
poverty. But to the extent that the common-American-culture point 
of view is not a valid one, the opportunity programs, “means” pro- 

250 The Lower-Class Culture and Poverty-War Strategy 

grains, will not make a major dent in poverty because lower-clasv 
adaptations to the actual situation of deprivation exist and interfere 
i\'ith tlie means program by making tliem unattractive, meaningless, 
or distrusted. 

If, on the other hand, one pursues the lotver-dass subculture 
point of view and attempts to derive a strategy from an appreciation 
of the distinctive diaracteristics of lower-class subcultural values, 
techniques for coping ivitli the world, and personality characteristics 
tliat go along ivitli those, then poliq’ implications are likely to stress 
tire necessity for culture and personality diange as prerequisites for a 
solution to tlie problem of poverty. One seeks means to interrupt the 
transmission of lorver-class culture from one generation to another, 
and instead to arrange to transmit cultural elements that will enable 
loiver-class people to function in stable ismrking- or middle-class ways. 
One popular version of tliis view (apparently not held by many 
serious social scientists) is simply to remove diildren from tlieir lower- 
class homes and to provide in the form of American kibbutzim an 
environment in wliich conventional culture is transmitted and in 
which lower-dass culture is not available. Less horrifying versions 
ivould involve special educational programs to remedy cultural 
deprivation and disadvantage, preschool progi-ams like Head Start, 
and adult-education programs oriented to bringing about cultural 
change through instruction such as consumer education programs, 
prevocational training oriented to etiquette, dress, speech, and tlic 

But from the standpoint of anthropological theory', there is one 
glaring fallacy in such strategies. We view culture as an adaptation to 
the social and ecological situation in -wliich peoples find tliemselves. 
Antliropologists are fascinated ivdtli unraveling the varied ivays in 
which culture represents an adaptation to the existential realities of 
tribes and peasants in all parts of the world and, increasingly, of 
those w'ho dwell in urban industrial societies. Now, if culture is an 
adaptation to life situations, if it is transmitted as the accumulated 
knowledge of the group about how to adapt, and if the learning of 
that culture is systematically reinforced by the experiences tliat indi- 
viduals have as they grow up and go about their daily lives making 
their oira individual adaptation to their oivn individual social and 
ecological situation, then one can predict that any effort to change 
lower-class culture directly by outside educational intervention is 
doomed to failure. Lower-class people will have no incentive to 
change their culture (indeed they ivould suffer if they tried) , unless 

251 Li:e Rainwater 

there is some significant change in their situation. Anthropologists, in 
short, have tremendous respect for culture as a way of coping with 
the stresses of human life; it follows that they have to respect the 
problem-solving ability of lower-class culture and the tenacity of 
lower-class human beings who have worked out adaptations that, to 
some extent at least, minimirc their problems (no matter how far 
these adaptations fall short of '‘perfect’* ones) . 

And, also, any realistic assessment of the likelihood of cither an 
opportunity or a cultural-change strategy paying off must include an 
assessment of the middle-class caretaker culture as well as the culture 
of lower-class people. As Herbert Cans ])oints out in Chapter 8, a 
proper definition of the "culture of poverty" ought also to include 
those cultural characteristics of conventional society that sen'e to 
sustain and militate against any change in the lower-class culture. In 
short, middle-class culture forms part of the social and ecological 
situation of lower-class people to which they adapt by developing 
their own subculture. Central to the caretaker culture is the apparent 
inability of large-scale public institutions to change in ways that 
allow them to sene lower-class populations without also demeaning 
them, or to obligate the tremendous resources that would be neces- 
sary to carr)- out culture change (or opportunity progiams) that 
might prove effective. The central characteristic of the middle-class 
component of the culture of poverty is the almost total unwillingness 
of conventional society to admit its complicity in the suffering and 
exclusion that lower-class people experience. Anthropologists have 
been traditionally distrustful of the culture-change potential of mis- 
sionaries; it is not difficult for them to sec the analogous situation 
involved in many community-action, guided self-help, and education- 
for-the-disadvantaged jnograms. 

This line of analysis then leads one to the view that if lower-class 
culture is to be changed and lower-class people arc eventually to be 
enabled to take advantage of "opportunities” to participate in con- 
ventional society and to earn their own w.iy in it, this change can 
only come about through a change in the soeial and ecological situa- 
tion to which lower-class people must adapt. 

A strategy, then, to change the situation of lower-class people so 
that whatever negative consequences issue from tlicir distinctive cul- 
ture also cliangc requires an understanding of what it is about those 
situations that fosters lower-class cultural adaptations. If, as has been 
aigiied heic, lower-class culture is an adaptation not to an absolute 
deprivation of living below some minimum standard, but to the 

252 The Lower-Class Culture and Poverty-War Strategy 

relative deprivation of being so far removed from the average Ameri- 
can standard that the lo'vver-class individual cannot feel himselE pan 
of his society, then the poliq' implications point clearly to the neces- 
sity for developing programs that allocate sufficient resources to lower- 
class people to correct their situation of relative deprivation. If the 
common-American-culture point of vietv encourages an “opportunitj" 
strategy and the distinctive lower-class culture point of \riew suggests 
a "culture change” strategy', the adaptational view argued here points 
toward a "resource equalization strategy." 


What little we knoiv about -what most Americans think about pov- 
erty, deprivation, and discrimination suggests that Americans want a 
society in which there is no class of people below “the average man” 
in terms of prestige, income, or other advantages. The lowest man on 
the totem pole, in tlieir minds, should be able to hold up his head as 
an "average American.” So much do Americans cleave to this ideal 
that 8o per cent of them will call themselves middle class (rather 
than upper or lower) and very, very few will admit to the label lower 
class. Although a denial of reality, this behavior suggests that for 
Americans the good society is one in wliich each man and woman can 
earn the right to an average standard of living. While Americans do 
not like the idea that average-man resources should be handed to 
anyone on a silver platter, they do believe that a successful American 
society would be one in which each person does indeed earn such a 
standard of living because of the opportunity and security that are 
available to him. 

Today’s political challenge is to so govern the society that these 
ideals are realized. But in order to realize them, they must first be 
consciously faced. The ideal that every family have at least the aver- 
age American standard of living has simply not been fully articulated 
in modern times. Instead, to tlie extent that the issue has been dealt 
with at all, it has been in terms of "minimum standards of living 
rather than average standards of living. The perspective implicit in 
the various poverty standards that have received -widespread atten- 
tion since the beginning of the War on Poverty represents a kind of 
compromise with the American ideal that beleagured liberal politi- 
cians and welfare workers have accepted and established because the) 
have so little hope that anything can be done to achieve the ideal of 
a nation of average men. Poverty standards are part of a kind of 

253 Lee Rainwater 

desperate view of the world in which only a little bit of assistance 
(“not too much health, education, and welfare”) is possible or al- 
lowed, Liberals, particularly as they are incorporated into the politi- 
cal and welfare establishment, have become so used to this notion 
that it is hard for them to imagine political programs that go beyond 
improving slightly the welfare measures now in existence. And the 
new radicals seem equally wedded to such an ungenerous conception 
of what American society might be, given some political imagination, 
because it confirms their pessimistic view of the world and their 
cataclysmic preferences for a revolution that somehow is going to 
come tomorrow. 

Yet, there have been times in American history when -we have 
not been content with such limited vision, and government action 
has been directed not so much to goals of “subsistence” as to the goal 
of providing opportunities for a larger and larger group of Ameri- 
cans to enjoy the going level of average affluence. One of the most 
dramatic examples is the Homestead Act of the nineteenth century, 
which aimed at a nation of free, self-sufficient, and average, not sub- 
sistence, farmers. However ineffective and piecemeal such programs 
may have been, their aim at least was high compared to any of the 
poverty programs we accept today as representing the best we can 

The emphasis on minimum standards, on “poverty lines,” ivhich 
informs so much of our thinking today, is subject to a very real 
embarrassment. The embarrassment is that as the nation becomes 
more affluent the poverty line seems to creep up.i^ That is, each 
decade, the “subsistence package” seems to involve a little bit more 
in the way of goods and services than it did the decade before. The 
implicit or explicit model used in most definitions of minimum stand- 
ards revolves around the problem of inadequate diet and is there- 
fore supposed to reflect a line that separates life and death, or at least 
sickness and health. The standard in a very real sense is concerned 
with man as an animal and with keeping him alive. Yet, even so, this 
standard seems to creep up imperceptibly with the decades. Why 
should this be so? Perhaps it is because the inventors of the standards 
do not really believe that an animal standard is meaningful, because 
they do believe that in order to even subsist as a person, individuals 
and families must somehow approximate the average standard of 
living. Wouldn’t we be better off if we admitted that this is our 
standard and then explored tvays of pursuing it vigorously; if 
stopped talking as if our aspirations are so modest as simply tXh.Wttit 

254 The Lower-Class Culture and Poverty-War Strategy 

to keep people from starving or being in poor health because they arc 
not adequately sheltered and clothed? 

There is a real congruence here bettveen the implicit view of a 
great many Americans and the findings of much social-science re- 
search on problems of poverty and deprivation. As outlined above, 
what causes the various lower-class pathologies that disturb us— 
"apathy,” "poor educational performance,” "crime and delin- 
quency,” the various forms of striking out at those around you and 
those who are better off — is not the absolute deprivation of living 
below some minimum standard, but the relative deprivation of being 
so far removed from the average American standard that one cannot 
feel himself part of his society. 

For all of these reasons it seems unlikely that we ^vill succeed in 
our effort to eradicate poverty unless we can succeed in engineering a 
radical shift in the national income distribution in the direction of 
greater income equality for the lower half of the population. It is 
possible to indicate sign posts along the way to that goal by which 
progress can be assessed. The view presented here is that income 
equity represents a floor on family incomes such that no family falls 
below that floor — a floor phrased not in terms of an absolute amount 
but relative to the median income for the nation, that is, to the 
incomes of other families. Such a standard is dynamic in that it takes 
account of the upward movement of median income as GNP in- 

We are concerned here with changes in the shape of the distribu- 
tion of families by income and are less concerned with the absolute 
amount of the minimum income not only because an absolute 
amount (even taking into account cost-of-living increases) will tend 
to lag behind the more rapidly rising median family income but also 
because, with the exception of a tiny proportion of families who 
receive truly subsistence incomes, the real problem is relative depri- 

We will further assume that income equalization should be pur- 
sued in terms of the equalization of incomes of heads of families and 
not the family income as a whole. That is, an equitable society would 
not require a certain proportion of its families to achieve average- 
income status by forcing the wife, for example, to enter the labor 
market. Americans want a society in which the average standard of 
living can be achieved by heads of families. Whether or not the ivives 
or older children also work should be considered a personal option 
balanced against the gains and losses of not working. If families want 

255 Lee Rainwater 

their wives or older children to work, that should be possible, too, 
but the society should not tie itself to equalization on that basis. 

Another factor that should be considered a personal option is 
that of family size. Assuming that birth-control services are widely 
available, the number of children a couple has is popularly regarded 
as a kind of consumer choice. Some people prefer to have more chil- 
dren than others and spend their money on the additional children; 
others prefer to have fewer children and spend their money in other 
ways. (As long as ive are confronted with a situation in which birth- 
control sendees are not tvidely available, special measures may be 
needed to provide reasonable incomes for very large families.) When 
the target of policy is a minimum-subsistence income, the size of 
family becomes a very important variable, but when the target of 
policy is achieving average-income status for all families, then the size 
of family becomes less of an issue. 

The goal, then, is to change the shape of the distribution of 
families by income. The present distribution is diamond-shaped. 
Using 1965 family income as an example, about 30 per cent of the 
population are in income classes that are $2,000 or more below the 
median and a similar proportion are that far above the median, 
leaving about 40 per cent of the families in a broad, middle-income 
band of $5,000 to $g,ooo. 

Present Distribution Triangular Income Distribution 

Figure 9-1. Present and More Equal Income Distribution (Using 1965 Non- 
farm Income Distribution for Illustration) 

Let us mark off two stages along the way toward the goal of 
having the lowest-income class also be in the median-income class, the 
situation that most fully meets the criterion that no family has an 
income that is below the average for all families (see Figure g-i, 
which uses the sociological convention of representing the hierarchy 
of families — in this case by income — by an appropriate geometric 
figure) . 

The first-stage goal should be to increase the income of those at 
the bottom of the distribution in such a way that the distribution 

256 The Lower-Class Culture and Poverty-War Stratecy 

assumes the shape of a triangle rather than a diamond. This goal is 
met when (a) the median-income class is the bottom-income class and 
(b) there are fewer people at each successive higher income level 
Such an income distribution preserv'es the deeply felt American de- 
sire that it should be possible to strive for success and excellence and 
that such striving should be materially rewarded, but begins to do 
away with the present situation in which some families are so far out 
of the society that the questions of motivation for achievement be- 
come really meaningless. 

Using 1965 as an example, this first-stage triangulation of the 
income distribution would mean that the income floor would have 
been at §5,000 and that 40 per cent of the nonfarm families would 
have been in the §5,000 to §5,999 income class. Thirty per cent of the 
families would have had to have their incomes increased by an aver- 
age of about §2,000 a year to achieve this. 

The second stage would then be to broaden the base of the 
income-distribution triangle by moving the floor up one income class. 
If this had been true in 1965, this second stage floor would have been 
§6,000. In this case 49 per cent of the nonfarm families would have 
been in the lowest income class. 

It must be emphasized that the goals offered here are derived 
from the sociological analysis presented earlier in the chapter. That 
analysis suggested that any serious program to eliminate poverty 
would have to ensure that resources are made directly available to 
poor families, and not secondhand through training programs, Head 
Stai't programs, community-action programs, and the like. Income is 
the most straightforward resource, as well as the most directly mea- 
surable indicator of achieving the goal of the elimination of poverty. 
However, this analysis cannot consider the feasibility of achieving 
these goals, nor for this purpose is that necessary. If the analysis is 
correct, then political leaders, with the technical assistance of econo- 
mists and others, will have to work out the ways of achieving the goal 
of a changed-income distribution. If that is not possible, then this 
analysis suggests it is not possible to eliminate poverty. 

Economists are becoming increasingly sophisticated in simulat- 
ing a variety of socio-economic conditions. In their work, they have 
generally taken the income distribution more or less for granted. The 
argument in this chapter recommends that the income distribution 
itself be taken as problematic and that theoretical and empirical 
efforts be directed toward discovering the economic measures by 
which the distribution of families by income could be changed. 

251 Lee Rainwater 

Obviously, the particular measures used to achieve income equal- 
ity would have important effects in and of themselves. A major 
emphasis on employment both through aggregate stimulation and 
public employment programs would have one set of effects. A major 
emphasis on income maintenance programs would have a different 
set of effects, and even the different possible varieties of income- 
maintenance programs (negative income tax, family allowance, more 
liberal welfare payments, etc.) would have varied impacts. There are 
excellent sociological reasons to suggest that the major emphasis 
should be on employment programs, with income maintenance ap- 
proaches used only when employment programs fail to provide rea- 
sonable incomes. But all such issues of specific programs and their 
effects will obviously require a great deal of scholarly effort before 
their effects can be predicted with any reliability. 

Just as obviously, a change in the shape of the income distribu- 
tion will have major effects on other economic factors — national 
product, productivity, balance of payments, the rate of inflation, in- 
centives to work, etc. It seems likely that awareness of these many 
ramifications has so far discouraged economic policy makers from 
even examining thoroughly the ways in which income distribution 
might be changed. But the results to date of a war on poverty in 
which economic approaches have seemed almost irrelevant suggests 
that these issues cannot be avoided. 


The goal described here involves an approach that equalizes income 
from bottom up. Such a goal could probably be attained over a ten- 
year period by a marked redistribution of annual increases in na- 
tional income toward the lowest income groups. A plan that redis- 
tributes only the increases in national income and does not make 
inroads into current income avoids the problems of direct confronta- 
tion involved in the older model of “soaking the rich to give to the 
poor.” If the proper economic planning skills were brought to bear, 
it should be possible to achieve such a redistribution without provok- 
ing entrenched opposition from the higher income groups, particu- 
larly since we have every reason to believe that a move toward in- 
come equalization would result in much larger increases in gross 
national product and therefore in national income than are now 

258 The Lower-Class Culture and Poverty-War Strata::^ 


1. Da\-id Matza, “The Disreputable Poor,” in Reinhard Bcndix and Setr^-^r 
M. Lipset, eds., Class, Status and PoTver, rev. edn. (Ne;v York: The Free ci 
Glencoe, 1966) . 

2. Allison Davis, Social Class Influence Upon Learning (Cambridge. 
Harv’ard University Press, 1952) , pp. 10-11. 

3. IValter B. Miller, "Focal Concerns of Loiver Class Culture," in Louii 
Ferman et al.. Poverty in America. (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Frc't 
1965) . PP- 261, 270. 

4. Talcott Parsons, "An Analytical Approach to tlie Thcor)- of Social Stratifi- 
cation,’’ in Talcott Parsons, Essays in Sociological Theory (Glencoe, 111 .: The Free 
Press, 1954) , p. 72. 

5. Robert K. Merton, Social Theory and Social Structure (Glencoe, III.: The 
Free Press, 1957) , pp. 146-147. 

6. Interestingly, for both Merton and Davis, vchose differing vicics icerc tcorVed 
out at about the same time, their approach to lower-class behavior represented a 
polemic against biological determinism. For Davis, lower-class culture dc.aion- 
strated the primac)' of environment over heredity, of nurture over n.iture. in ex- 
plaining the behavior of its members; Merton’s vieves concerning anomie (the 
disjunction of culturally prescribed goals and institutionalized means for their 
achievement) served as a polemic against the view tliat lays responsibility for the 
faulty operation of social structures to failure of social control over man’s im- 
perious biological drives. The biology they were against, houever, v\'a5 slightly 
different. Davis polemicized against race or class biological inferiority, Merton 
against Freud’s biological drive. Davis, a psychologically-oriented learning 
theorist, preserved a common human biology’ as an important element in hit 
theories, while Merton sought to eschew, or at least "hold constant,” biology. 

7. Hyman Rodman, "The Lovrcr-Class Value Stretch.” Social Forces (December 

8. Boone Hammond, "The Contest System: A Survival Technique," Masters 
Honors Essay, Washington University, 1965; Joyce A. Ladner, "On Becoming 
a Woman in the Ghetto,” unpublished doctoral dissertation, IVashington Uni- 
versity, 1968; Lee Rainwater, "Crucible of Identity; The Negro Lower Class 
Family,” Daedalus (Winter 19G6) ; Lee Rainvs-ater, "Work and Identity in 
the Lower Class,” in Planning for a Nation of Cities (Cambridge, Mass : MIT 
Press, 1966) ; David Schultz, “The Lower Class Negro Family: Some Reality 
Behind the Statistics,” presented to the Department of Sociology, Roclicster Uni- 
versity, 1966. Dav'id A. Schultz, Coming Up Black: Patterns of Ghetto Socialization 
(Englevs’ood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969) . 

9. For discussions of various Caribbean mating and family patterns, sec 
Judith Blake, Family Structure in Jamaica (Nevs’ York: The Free Press of Glencoe, 
1961) ; William Goode, "Illegitimacy in the Caribbean Social Structure," Atnerican 
Sociological Review, XXV (February i960) , 21-30; William Goode, "Note on 
Problems in Theory and Method: The New 'World,” American Anthropologid, 
LXVIII, No. 2, Part 1 (April 19G6) ; Fernando Henriques, Family and Color in 
Jamaica (London: EyTe and Spottiswoode, 1953) : Keith F. Otterbein, "Caribbean 
Family Organization: A Comparative Analysis,” in Talcott Parsons, cd., Ls'.a^i tn 
Sociological Theory (New York: The Free Press of Glencoe, 1931)1 Hyman 
man, “Illegitimacy in the Caribbean Social Structure: A Reconsideration,’ 

icon Sociological Review, XXXI (October 1966), 673-6S3: M. G. Smith, he-- 
Indian Family Structure (Washington: University of yVashington Press, 1562) , 
Raymond T. Smith, "Culture and Sodal Structure in the Caribbean: Some Recent 
AVork on Family and Kinship Studies," Comparative Studies in Society cr. 
History, VI, No. 1 (October 1963), 24-46; Nanq' L. Solien de Gonzalez, Faini y 

259 Lnn Rainwater 

Orpiniration in Five T\pcs of Mipralorj' Wage Laljor," American Anthropologist, 
LXIII. No. 6 (OcccmlKr ifjGi) ! J. Ma>onc St)co< and Kurt Back, The Control 
of Unman Tertility in Jamaica (Illiaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, igG.j) . 

10. Bernard Barber, family; Organisation anil Interaction (Salt Francisco: 
Chandler, igG]). 

n. Cl)de Kluckhohn, "Values and Value Orientations in the Theory of 
Action,” in Talcotl Parsons and Edsvard A. Shils, cds.. Toward a General Theory 
of Action (Nc'v York: llaipcr, 

le. William E. Yanccs, "The Culture of Poverty: Not So ^fuch Paisimony,” 
unpubli'hcsl paper, 5ocial Science Institute, Washington University, igGp 

13. Albert J. Cohen, Delinquent Toys (Nesv York: The Free Press of Glencoe, 

i^. Dasid Matra, Delinquency and Drift (New York; Wiley, tgG]). 

15. F.rsing Gollman. Stigma (F.nglcwood ClilTs, N.J.: Prcnticc-llall, 19G5) . 

iG. Alsin Goultinrr, "Kcciptocity and Autonomy in Fiinrtional Theory," 
in IJesvcllsn Gross, csl., .Sjrn/iniiiin on Soeiotogicat Theory (Philadelphia: Rosv 
Peter-son, ig’,‘'). 

17. O'car Oniati, Taverty Amid Aflltienee (Ness' York: Tss-entieth Century 
Fund, ipGG) ; Victor Fuths. "Rnlchning Poserty and Redistributing Income," 
The Public Interest (.Summer igG;), pp. .‘t't-g;,. 

tP. After a bro.i<l l)a'ctl ttiangtilar-sha|>rd inromc distribution has been 
adticsed. it sioidd then Iw [xissildr to Irrgin to rai'c the question about boss' equi- 
table IS the di'taiuc Itom the top of the distribution to the mediatt, that is, to raise 
the question alsotit ssheihcr the rich ate osrtI> tesvarded for their contributions. 
But this IS an imuc that is hkcls not to base the same explosive social and 
political implirations that the pie'cnt highi) inequitable and extremely tenadous 
distribution has. Gisrii the Icscls of atlluence likcl) to be enjosed in a highly 
productisc society ssith a ttiam'.ular incninc distribution, this kind of question is 
likcls to icein icIatncU uninqMttiant, both betausc cscryone will have so mucli 
and bccati'e the rcssardi of acliic'ctneni ssill become increasingly intrinsic ones 
as the extrinsic tcssatdi of lieing able to live decently arc taken more and more 
for granted. 

Chapter 10 

The Elimination of the American 
Lower Class as National Policy: A Cniiqiie 

of the Ideology of the Poverty Movement 
of the 1960 s walter miller 

Persons responsible for [governmental] programs who do not insist on 
darity and candor in the definition of objectives and the means for ob- 
taining them ... do not much serve the public interest. 


Values appear in disguised form in our "factual” analyses and bipartisan 
or nonpartisan discussions. 


. . . it is the essential peculiarity of ideologies that they do not simply 
prescribe ends but also insistently propose prefabricated interpretations 
of existing social realities . . . that bitterly resist . . . revision. 



That portion of the population of the United States of America 
whose customary occupational pursuits center on low-skilled labor 
currently presents a perplexing problem for public officials whose 
responsibilities include domestic policy. As it has for many centuries 
in large economically differentiated societies, the tvay of life asson- 
ated with low-skilled manual labor involves a characteristic set of life 
conditions and customary behavioral practices. Ten of these are: 

1. A pattern of work involvement entailing predominantly non- 
specialized physical labor at low-skill levels and incorporaung 

261 Walter Miller 

varying degrees of recurrent intermittency as demands for Icsv-- 
skilled labor of different kinds wax and s^'ane •with changes in 
the seasons and/or the supply-and-demand circumstances of the 

2. A pattern of educational involvement characterized by little 
formal schooling or relatively short periods thereof, ssuth primary 
emphasis on more generalized social and occupational skills 
rather than advanced and/or specialized training. 

3. A level of monetary and/or nonmonetary recompense generally 
commensurate ■vs'ith low levels of occupational skill, based on 
a societal resvard system that grants higher levels of reward to 
those whose occupations involve higher les'els of skill and re- 

4. A pattern of income acquisition that is versatile rather than 
constricted and that involves an expectation of the provision of 
some portion of one’s income by private superordinates or 
agencies of the state on the basis of considerations other than 
occupational performance as such. 

5. A set of arrangements for producing and rearing children is’hose 
■viability is not predicated on the consistent presence in the 
household of an adult male acting in the role of husband and 
father, facilitating flexibility of male participation in the occupa- 
tional sphere, with mating unions often instituted without re- 
course to a formal religious and/or legal ceremony. 

6. A mode of rearing children organized so as to minimize the 
duration of necessary in-household socialization, facilitate early 
participation in the work world, and provide for both male and 
female offspring the learning of important elements of sex role 
and related forms of behavior through the mediinn of extra- 
household peer groups and/or local adults. 

7. The allocation of limited portions of one’s material resources 
and physical energies to enterprises involving the ownership, 
maintenance, and adornment of residential strucxiures and their 

8. A set of attitudes and practices with regard to authority and 
formal organization involving special skills and techmques for 
performing subordinate roles, an expectation that major re- 
sponsibility for exercising superordinate authority vcill be as- 
sumed by those at higher levels of skill and training, and a low- 
level of participation in a particnlar set of formally organized 
economic and political enterprises whose conduct and a dmini stra- 

262 The Elimination of the Lower Class as National PoJ:> 

tion constitute a major focus of concern and involvement fc- 
those at higher status levels. 

9 . A characteristic set of pursuits outside the occupational sphere 
that provide direct and immediate emotional and/or ph}r'ia! 
gratification and the quest for stimulating inner experience; 
for example, recurrent use of ingested stimulants, follosving and 
participating in high-risk games and contests, forms of enta- 
tainment and diversion that provide high-intensity drama and 

10 . Customary engagement in forms of behavior tliat violate the 
legal statutes of relevant political jurisdictions, often involving 
violence, but most commonly comprising theft by males, partic- 
ularly adolescents. 

Couched in these terms, these practices and conditions can be 
conceived with little difiBculty as mutually interrelated features of a 
particular tvay of life geared to the circumstances of low-skilled labor. 
While the nature of these relationships cannot be developed lierc, 
brief consideration of each feature avith reference to the question, 
"How does this feature arise from or contribute to the circumstances 
of low-skilled labor?” will indicate the nature and extent of mutual 
coherence.^ From this perspective, the degree of concordance among 
the several features appears greater than the degree of discordance, 
and the way of life as a whole can be conceived with little difficulty as 
making an important contribution, albeit only one of many contri- 
butions, to the social and economic viability of our society. Moreover, 
conceptualization in these terms lays the groundwork for a formula- 
tion of problematic aspects of the circumstances of low-skilled labor- 
ing populations tlrat is based on consideration of their present and 
future role with respect to the total economy, and in particular the 
impact on this role of technological changes and large-scale popula- 
tion movements. 

If one grants the possibility of characterizing this way of life m 
relatively moderate descriptive terms, how then is one to account for 
the fact that most current characterizations of the low-skilled labor- 
ing class — particularly the urban portion tliereof — resound rrith 
frantic alarm? Urban lower-class communities are depicted as dismal 
ghettos swarming with victimized inhabitants at once tragicall) 
apatlietic and monstrously violent, somehow enduring an unendur- 
able existence permeated with pathology, wracked with desperauon, 
ominously sowing the bitter seeds of the gigantic cataclysm that r^ill 

263 Walter Miller 

destroy us all. One clue is provided by directing attention to the 
language customarily applied to the ten conditions cited above. 

The low-skilled laboring population itself is characterized in 
terms such as "the underclass,” "tlie himpenproletariat/’ "the un- 
derprivileged,” and "the culturally disadvantaged.” Common terms 
for the cited features are "marginal labor,” “unskilled labor,” 
“chronic unemployment,” “poor job skills,” “unorganized jobs,” “un- 
deremplo)’ment” (low occupational skill, intermittency) ; “cultural 
deprivation,” “undereducation,” “school dropouts,” "functional 
illiterac) ” (low formal education) ; “chronic dependenq',” "welfare 
dependent:}’,” “slave mentality” (income supplementation) ; “broken 
homes,” "broken families," "family instability,” "wife desertion,” 
"illegitimacy” (female-based households) ; "child neglect,” “parental 
indifference,” “premature independence” (early independence so- 
cialization) ; “urban blight,” “deterioration,” “substandard housing,” 
"dilapidation and decay” (low housing investment) ; “political 
apathy,” "alienation,” "anomie,” "political marginality,” "disen- 
franchisement,” "apoliticality,” "dependency” (low organizational 
participation, subordinacy ) ; “defective impulse control,” “primitive 
inhibitor}’ control,” “self-indulgence” (immediate-gratification recre- 
ation) ; "crime and violence in the streets,” "collapse of law and 
order,” "epidemic lawlessness” (violative behavior) . 

All of these terms, widely used to characterize low-skilled labor- 
ing populations and major features of their subculture, share a com- 
mon element; tliey are heavily infused with value. It is not their 
function to provide a basis for objective description, but rather to in- 
dicate with minimum ambiguity a particular set of value judgments. 
Practices and conditions are formulated in such a way as to make it 
impossible to speak of organization or consistency, and terms of refer- 
ence are chosen that forcefully convey a sense of disapproval.^ 

It will be the tliesis of this chapter that these and related terms 
are products of a distinctive and pers’asive ideolog}’ — an ideology 
that has profoundly conditioned prevalent modes of perceiving and 
conceiving the life circumstances of low-status populations, pro- 
foundly influenced the formulation of policy objectives, profoundly 
affected the capacity of planners to develop effective programs. The 
chapter will contend, further, that this ideology has assumed tlie 
quality of the sacred dogma of a cult movement and has become so 
deeply and unconsciously ingrained as to critically restrict considera- 
tion of policy options. It will propose, finally, that an essential pre- 
requisite to new and more effective policy is the deliberate abandon- 

264 The Elimination of the Lower Class cj National Pdic^ 

ment of the oirrent ideological apparatus and the substituu'on o 5 5 
sophisticated and well-conceived conceptual rationale. 

This chapter will use the term die "Movement” to designate that 
category of persons ivho customarily conceptualize the circumstances 
of American low-skilled laboring populations in terms such as "po-,. 
erty,” "the poor,” "deprivation,” “relative deprivation,” "denial oi 
opportunity,” "the power structure,” "apathy,” "alienation,” and 
“the ghetto.” Like all broad social categories, this one includes pa- 
sons ivho may differ substantially with respect to other characteristics 
— ignoring, for example, the distinction betis'een scholarly analysts 
and avowed social reformers. The argument ivill proceed through a 
discussion of four of the key terms of the Poverty Ideology along 
with several closely related concepts. A final section will consider 
briefly some policy implications of the analysis.® 


The ideology' of any social movement incorporates a set of words or 
phrases with particular characteristics. They are limited in number; 
drey indicate major areas of concern and acceptable attitudes tosvard 
them; they ascribe virtue and blame; they are heavily evaluative. 
Each key term, in addition, has at least two sets of meanings: a more 
generally understood or explicit connotation and one or more code- 
word connotations, svhich convey a different meaning or meanings to 
those in a position to understand them. A special requirement of key- 
ideology terms in the United States is that they have the simplicity, 
catchiness, and popular appeal of a successful advertising slogan. 
Folloss'ing sections tvill discuss four of the key terms of the ‘'Poverty 
Ideology” — "The Poor,” "Poverty,” "Deprivation,” and "Opportu- 
nity,” along widr several other related concepts such as "the poverty 
line,” “the culture of poverty,” “reladve deprivation,” "the power 
structure,” and “the ghetto.” 


The terms “The Poor” and "Poverty,” central concepts of the Ideol- 
ogy', represent simple prepackaged solutions to ttvo highly compli- 
cated problems: How is the population under consideration to be 
identified and defined? What is it about this population that is prob- 
lematic? Age-old semantic overtones of the term "poverty” imply that 

265 Walter Miller 

it is a concrete and readily identifiable condition and that it is piti- 
fully rather than reprehensibly bad. The term thus effectively ser\'es 
the Public Relations purposes of the Movement, but at a formidable 
cost. The cost is massive confusion. 

At the root of the confusion is the failure to distinguish in any 
explicit or consistent fashion between the “absolute” and “relative” 
senses of the term and a continual shifting between the tv o. Poverty, 
in the absolute sense, refers to a condition of acute physical want — 
starvation, near starvation, or a diet conducive to malnutiition and 
disease; lack of clothing or shelter necessary for protection from ele- 
ments; absence of minimal medical services. This is the condition of 
some populations in India and Africa. Poverty in the lelative sense is 
ver)' diffeient. It may be attributed quite freely to a wide lange of 
populations whose income or other circumstances are adjudged to be 
lower or worse than those of other populations, specified or unspeci- 
fied. Poverty in this sense may be applied to populations that aie 
healthy, adequately fed, and adequately housed.'* The essential ele- 
ment here is not the objective circumstances of the lotver income 
group, but an awareness on their part of differences between their lot 
and that of others, an awaieness centering on the expeiience of envy. 
This aspect of "relative” poverty will be discussed further under the 
concept "deprivation.” 

The existence of poverty in the absolute sense indicates directly 
and with little ambiguity, to persons reared in a democratic tradi- 
tion, the need for ameliorative action and the kinds of action needed, 
thus providing a solid basis for national policy. In the United States, 
however, there is a major drawback to the use of this concept as a 
justification for public programs; poverty in the absolute sense is 
virtually nonexistent. When, from time to time, some diligent in- 
vestigator discovers a family on the edge of starvation or a southern 
community with grave subsistence problems, the event is sufficiently 
notetvorthy to make national headlines. 

The fact is that innovative and broad-ranging social legislation 
in the 1930s laid the basis for an extensive network of public health 
and welfare organizations whose services and resources, universall) 
available by law, make it virtually impossible for any substantial 
portion of our population to be denied necessary food, shelter, cloth- 
ing, or health care for any extended period. It tvould be foolish to 
maintain that this system is so efficient, so evenly administered, and 
so well-financed as to effectively satisfy the subsistence needs and 
desires of all persons at all times; "pockets” of poverty in the absolute 

266 The Elimination of the Lower Class as National Polic', 

sense do appear from time to time and place to place. Profcssionil 
social •svorkers, however, like to pretend that there exist in tin's coun- 
try vast numbers of needy persons who are so isolated, so uninfonncd, 
so "unreached” that they cannot avail tliemselves of resources to 
which they are entitled. This is a myth. Investigators worlin; 
assiduously to uncover this vast resen'oir of "unreachcd” American^ 
have repeatedly failed to discover any substantial numbers of persons 
truly beyond tlie reach of local, state, or federal healtli and tvc]f.ire 

Given, then, the fact tliat poverty in the absolute sense is rirtu- 
ally nonexistent in the United States or, at best, sufficiently rare as to 
provide scant justification for the allocation of billions to its eradica- 
tion, the ideologists have been constrained, upon rejecting the obvi- 
ous alternative of scrapping the term entirely, to resort to the concept 
of "relative” poverty as the prime justification for the Movement. In 
so doing, they have opened up a Pandora’s box of unsolved and 
insoluble problems. Since the essential criteria of relative poverty, as 
conceived by tlie ideologists, are certain subjective experiences, the 
principal order of evidence for its existence must be some reliable 
measure of these experiences. Such a measure is, however, beyond the 
scope of our most advanced investigative techniques, although ex- 
pressions of discontent are quite easy to elicit from most people 
under the proper circumstances. The existence of the determining 
criteria of relative poverty, then, must be deduced by the Ideologists 
on the basis of considerations other than findings of reliable empiri- 
cal investigation.® 

What are these considerations? They are, as S. M. Miller has 
pointedly indicated, a set of value judgments of the most abstruse 
and intricate kind, involving such philosophical classics as the rela- 
tive happiness of persons at higher- and lower-status levels, the kinds 
and degrees of justice and injustice involved in the uneven distribu- 
tion of societal resources, the relative value of "personal happiness 
and "societal welfare,” the desirability or undesirability of social- 
status differentiation, the social consequences of subjectively experi- 
enced em7 or discontent, and many others. Whatever tlie ultimate 
resolution of these perennial issues, the current inclinations of parti- 
sans of one view or another provide dubious support for a central 
justificational concept of a mammoth public enterprise. 

The abstract speculations tliat underlie the concept of relative 
poverty are sufficiently dubious as to make many public officials most 
uncomfortable. Moreover, key concepts of an Ideology', to be effec- 

2(57 Walter Miller 

tive, should present the appearance of hard and immutable truths. 
Sensing these difficulties, the Ideologists have undertaken a series of 
maneuvers in an attempt to impart some semblance of absolute 
meaning to a thoroughly relativistic concept. Nowhere is this better 
seen than in the extraordinary gyrations on that giddy tightrope, the 
"Poverty Line.” Initial formulations, centering on the uncomplicated 
notion that a family of two or more with an annual cash income of 
$g,ooo or less was "In Poverty” and one with more than .¥3,000 was 
not, were so patently untenable as to impel the Ideologists into a se- 
ries of acrobatics that have produced a set of abstruse definitions such 
as the decision that the Poverty Line is $1,710 for a farm family with 
two children, but $5,135 for a nonfarm family with six.® 

Poverty in the absolute sense, then, cannot be used as a valid 
justification for federal piograms because of its rarity, and in the 
relative sense because it is impossible to adduce nonevaluative empir- 
ical evidence for its existence. Why, then, is the concept so tenaciously 
retained? A major clue is provided if one assumes that Poveity 
is in fact a code word for something else, and that the “some- 
thing else” is the total pattern of life of low-skilled laboring 
populations, a pattern in which low income as such is only one 
element. The "problem” is not that low income permits little educa- 
tion resulting in low-skilled jobs producing low income, but that low 
income is only one feature of a complex and ramified life style whose 
component characteristics, many of which are defined as "proble- 
matic” ("dependency,” "illegitimacy,” "instability,” and so on) , 
evince an order of mutual coherence that is not merely the regrettable 
consequence of a "vicious cycle of Poverty,” but that derives instead 
from the particular and complicated role played by the low-skilled 
laboring population with respect to the total social and economic 

The concept of Poverty cannot be abandoned by the Ideologists 
because its code-word meaning provides them a way of more accu- 
rately representing the condition of low-status populations without 
at the same time conspicuously contradicting those Ideological tenets 
that deny validity to the code-word meaning. This explains their 
extreme ambivalence to the "Culture of Poverty” concept, which they 
cannot live with and cannot live without. While many are well aware 
of the ambiguities and inconsistencies of this position ("that vague 
and misleading potpourri of tastes and judgments”: S. M. Miller) , they 
cannot nonetheless afford to reject it because it provides an illusion 
of salvage for the ill-fated absolute-relative dilemma. The Culture of 

268 The Elimination of the Lower Class as National Policy 

Poverty concept, while it does imply a degree of ordered relationship 
among the elements of the "culture” that is anathema to the Ideolo- 
gists, is in most other respects highly compatible with the Ideolog)', in 
that it conceptualizes its major elements in a fashion congenial to 
ideological tenets, couches its explanational dynamic in essentially 
the same terms (“Pathology,” “Deprivation," "The Power Structure”) , 
provides a desperately needed semblance of cross-cultural validation 
to the “cycle-of-poverty” idea, and shores up the trembling founda- 
tions of “relative poverty” with seemingly solid anthropological 

The Movement’s choice of the term “poverty” as their code word 
for the subculture of low-skilled laboring populations provides an 
excellent example of the process whereby measures undertaken to 
further the purposes of a movement serve to frustrate other purposes, 
such as achieving clarity in the formulation of objectives. If the 
“elimination of poverty” is indeed the true purpose of the Move- 
ment, the question immediately arises. Why not just give them more 
money? This could be accomplished quite readily through any one of 
a number of economic measures currently being proposed: a negative 
income tax, guaranteed annual incomes, family allowances, and so on. 
Why, then, all the tortured debates about alternative strategies,'"' and 
why the intensive efforts involving schooling, training, jobs, citizen 
action groups, political participation, and all the rest? 

The answer is, of course, that the “elimination of poverty” is 
not the objective of the Movement at all. It is, rather, the elimina- 
tion of the whole subcultural complex for which Poverty is a code 
word — work practices, educational involvement, child-rearing arrange- 
ments, housing practices, political behavior, attitudes toward au- 
tliority and responsibility — the well-established way of life indicated 
by the ten features cited earlier. It is very difficult to imagine how the 
simple expedient of seeing to it that people receive enough addi- 
tional money to raise tlieir annual incomes above one or another of 
the various poverty lines could have anything more than a very 
limited impact on this complex. The subculture of contemporary 
low-skilled laboring populations has repeatedly proved to be highly 
resistant to a wide variety of directed change efforts, some of which 
have been far more sophisticated and ingeniously contrived than the 
proposal for raising incomes. If people follow a lower-class way of life 
because they have little money, then more money should alter that 
way of life; if, on the other hand, they have little money because they 
follow a lower-class way of life, the situation is far more complicated. 

269 Walter Miller 

It confronts the Ideologists with the arduous task of facing up to the 
nature and implications of their objectives, a task that the easy form- 
ulation "the elimination of poverty” enables them to avoid. 

the poor 

The choice of the term “The Poor” to designate the population 
taken by the Movement as their object of concern is particularly 
unfortunate. In tlie United States, the selection of a term to refer to 
loiv-status populations is never easy, due primarily to an egalitarian 
ideolog)' that virtually enjoins reference to low social status except in 
certain oblique ways. Most commonly used terms fall into one of foiu 
categories. The first selects one out of the many related characteristics 
of lotv-skilled laboring-class life, couches it in evaluative terms, and 
uses it to represent the totality. Examples are The Impoverished 
(low income) , The Underclass (subordinacy) , and The Dependent 
(Income Supplementation) . The second characterizes the population 
trith reference to a valued characteristic of an unspecified comparison 
population. Examples are The Underprivileged (fewer privileges 
than ?) , The Disadvantaged (fewer advantages tlian ?) , and The 
Deprived (of?) . The third is predicated on a judgment that low-status 
people are “outsiders” with reference to a postulated “inside” society; 
examples are The Dispossessed, The Rejects, The Disowned, The 
Disenfranchised. The fourth category represents simple expressions of 
value centering around rvorthlessness, lack of merit, contemptibility; 
examples are Riff-raff, Trash, The Lumpenproletariat. 

The term “The Poor” falls into the first, or metonjmic, category. 
All metonymic characterizations involve logical problems, but the 
choice of low income as a primary class-defining criterion raises par- 
ticularly troublesome ones. A major logical difficulty inheres in the 
fact that the various income-level definitions commonly used to 
delineate “The Poor” catch up in the same net millions of people 
whose “problems” are very different from those of the population at 
issue. Little careful work has been done by the Ideologists to develop 
typologies of the masses of persons included within the various 
“poverty-line” definitions, but even their own figures suggest that at 
least half, and most probably more, of those designated as “Poor” 
under the rvidely used $3,000 yearly income criterion are not those 
taken by the Movement as its primary object of concern. 

As used by the Ideologists, the term “The Poor” elicits images of 
physically capable persons in their middle years whose low income is 

270 The Elimination of the Lower Class as National Policy 

a consequence of their participation in the labor market, or lack 
thereof. In point of fact, tg 6 o Census figures indicate that just about 
half of all persons categorized as “poor” by the 53,000 “poverty-line" 
criterion (about five million families and four million “unrelated 
individuals”) received their income in the form of Dividends, Inter- 
est, Rents, Royalties, Veterans’ Payments, Social Security, and Pen- 
sions of various kinds.® The majority of these people are elderly 
couples, widows or widowers living on pensions and/or Social Secu- 
rity; others include disabled veterans, persons with work disability 
pensions, and retired servicemen. The lives of all these people in- 
volve "problems,” as do those of any category of persons one can 
delineate, but they are not those implied by the term “The Poor” as 
used in the Movement. A very substantial proportion of those cate- 
gorized as “poor” under the various income-level criteria — in some 
cases a majority — do not present the kinds of problems to which the 
Ideology of the Movement is geared. 

A second major difficulty with the concept “The Poor" is that an 
income-level definition involves the same morass of slippery relativis- 
tic judgments as in the case of “Poverty.” The process of delineating 
a sector of the population whose income level supports a reasonably 
valid characterization as “poor” entails consideration of a large num- 
ber of highly complex variables, including differences in dollar value 
at different times and in different areas, amounts and kinds of non- 
money income, differences in life circumstances of "individuals" and 
“families,” rural versus urban living conditions, changing concep- 
tions of “adequate” or "minimal” incomes, and many others. The 
availability of so many variables provides a wide latitude of choice in 
the selection of criteria for designating people as “poor” or 
“nonpoor” — choices that are heavily and inevitably influenced by 
subjective values. 

In the face of so wide a latitude in choosing criteria for a defini- 
tion of “The Poor” that will best suit the aims of the Movement, it is 
all the more striking how little success has been achieved in doing so. 
The “urgent-crisis” component of the Ideology Message would be 
best served by a definition that would show tire numbers of The Poor 
to be large and grooving rapidly larger. Available statistics, in fact, 
appear most readily to indicate the opposite. Even a cursory exami- 
nation of income figures reveals that the proportion of persons at the 
lowest income levels is growing steadily smaller, their share in the 
total income growing larger, and even that their absolute numbers 
are decreasing in the face of substantial population increases. One of 

211 Walter Miller 

the most respected of the population statisticians, Herman Miller, 
concludes an intensive examination of family and nonfamily income 
with the statement that "there has been a very sharp drop in the 
proportions of persons living at near-subsistence levels, and that 
. . . for millions of people absolute want has been eliminated.” 
Miller documents “a precipitous drop” in the proportions of families 
and unrelated individuals with annual incomes under $2,000; in the 
iggos, the proportion was 3 in 4; in 1941, 3 in 5; in 1950, 1 in 4; in 
i960, only 1 in 8.® 

Statistics of this kind severely tax the capacity of the Ideologists 
to infuse some semblance of “absolute” validity into the concept 
"The Poor,” and at the same time make more imperative their obli- 
gation to do so. Ornati, led by his calculations to the realization that 
“poverty-line” definitions of even the recent past delineate a strik- 
ingly small number of present-day “Poor,” remarks, “By taking past 
standards that go back far enough, we are bound to find that there 
are no poor today, which is a patent absurdity.” The statement 
"there are no poor today” might perhaps be seen as rather less absurd 
than the manipulations required to adduce evidence for worsening 
conditions out of statistics that most readily indicate improve- 

With all these inconsistencies and ambiguities, why does the 
Movement continue to use "The Poor” as its principal term for 
denoting the population at issue? In American society, there is obvi- 
ous public-relations value in a term that uses a single and simple 
criterion — money — to define the class. But there is more than this. 
This ancient term strikes a deep and responsive chord in all those 
raised in the Protestant, Catholic, or Jewish religious traditions, for it 
designates a solidly traditional and thoroughly virtuous vehicle for 
achieving one’s personal salvation through works of Charity. These 
overtones are of particular value in enlisting the support and even 
the active participation of middle-class people. The increasing 
secularization in recent times of middle-class belief systems has 
blunted the effectiveness of the more obviously religious appeals to 
Charity for its own sake, but the Movement has substituted a patina 
of scientific validation, a superficially rational ideology, and a com- 
fortable orbit of organizational operations that provides a thoroughly 
modern rationale for the traditional pursuit of Good Works.i^ 

The very qualities of ambiguity and inconsistency which make 
the term "The Poor” so unsatisfactory as a basis for sound policy 
render it eminently suitable as a code word. Code-word meanings 

272 The Elimination of the Lower Class as National Policy 

may be varied to suit the purposes of the moment. On a broad and 
general level the term refers, of course, not merely to those with little 
money, but to that whole population that manifests the subculture of 
low-skilled labor — a population whose income circumstances may 
vary considerably. On a more restricted level and for somewhat 
different purposes, the term refers to the urban portion of that popu- 
lation, and on a still more restricted level to the negro portion of the 
latter. The code word use of the “The Poor” to mean “low-status 
urban Negroes” has become increasingly prevalent as the behavior of 
this group has moved further into the forefront of national attention. 


The term "Deprivation” serves as a multipurpose conceptual work- 
horse for the Ideology. As a critical link in a causational formula 
whose other terms (poverty, the poor, opportunity) are conceptually 
weak and ambiguous, it bears a special burden; unless the concept of 
deprivation can be shown to be particularly strong — ^logically, empir- 
ically, or both — the fundamental operating rationale of the entire 
Movement remains open to very serious question. 

As used outside the Ideology, the term “deprivation” generally 
connotes objectively evident conditions wherein people lack the basic 
elements necessary to life and well-being. General usage also incor- 
porates two additional connotations. First, while the elements whose 
absence results in “deprivation” are seen primarily as physical or 
material (food, clothing, shelter) , usage admits the possibility that 
nonmaterial elements may also be involved. Second, by comparison 
with more passive terms such as “want” or “need," the term implies 
an active agent that is doing the depriving — a connotation to be 
discussed under "Opportunity.” 

The proposition tliat “The Poor” experience "deprivation” con- 
stitutes an essential justification for the existence and activities of 
the Movement. But as already shown in the discussions of The Poor 
and Poverty, deprivation in its non-Movement sense of the absence of 
material elements necessary to sustain life and physical well-being is 
virtually nonexistent in the United States. To preserve die capacity 
of the concept to justify the Movement, the Ideologists have been 
constrained to resort to two logical shifts: from absolute to relative, 
and from material to nonmaterial. 

The shift to a relative level when validity in an absolute sense 
proves insupportable is, as has been seen, the classical, logical maneu 

273 Walter Miller 

ver of the Movement. In the case of Deprivation, this maneuver 
takes the form of the proposition that the essence of this condi- 
tion is not what people have or don’t have in any concrete or abso- 
lute sense, but what they have or don’t have relative to other people. 
The shift from the material to the nonmaterial sense of the term 
involves, in its turn, two additional shifts: the locus of the condition 
shifts from objective social and economic characteristics of popula- 
tions to subjective states of individuals; and the elements necessary to 
life and well-being shift from material resources to inner psychologi- 
cal responses. These transmutations thus make it possible to adduce 
the existence of “Deprivation” when a designated population is per- 
ceived to experience disturbing subjective responses with reference to 
the perceived conditions of another population. The following para- 
graphs will examine first the logical and then the empirical support- 
ability of these contentions. 

The concept of Relative Deprivation is the logical keystone of 
the Poverty Ideology and serves to justify the entire Movement. 
Since the number of persons in the United States who are "deprived” 
in any objective sense is so small, the Ideologists are impelled to 
project a series of theoretical postulates that will enable them to 
deduce widespread Deprivation. These are: (i) The United States 
of America has a single-standard social order wherein all citizens con- 
tinually judge themselves with respect to commonly accepted and 
clearly defined criteria of success, adequacy, excellence, respectability, 
and the like. (2) Those whose life circumstances diverge from this 
standard weigh themselves and find themselves wanting, producing a 
“self-image” centering on the absence of characteristics such as “self- 
respect,” “dignity,” “a sense of personal worth,” “adequacy,” “de- 
cency,” “manhood,” and the like. (3) The subjective discontent en- 
gendered by this self-evaluation is in itself highly detrimental, and, 
in addition, engenders passive withdrawal (“resignation,” “aliena- 
tion,” “anomie,” “retreatism,” and “apathy”) or Frustration that 
produces Aggression that produces Violence; the ideology is not spe- 
cific as to which of these logically opposed consequences will result.^® 

Even more. Relative Deprivation not only explains the genesis 
of The Problem of The Poor, but its dynamics as well. The Crisis of 
Oiu: Times by no means requires that there be any significant 
worsening in the objective material circumstances of low-status popu- 
lations; these may stay the same or even improve, so long as the 
circumstances of higher-status populations are improving faster. This 
logical maneuver enables the Ideologists to speak of an ominous 

274 The Elimination of the Lower Class as National Policy 

deterioration in the circumstances of The Poor in the face of evi- 
dence showing little change or even improvements. 

How adequate is the concept of Relative Deprivation, its under- 
lying premises, and postulated consequences? The concept owes 
much of its current popularity to a social-psychological inquiry into 
militaiy morale during World War II. A major conclusion of this 
study was that morale was determined by relative, rather than actual, 
circumstances. Soldiers under punishing combat conditions remained 
cheerful in tire face of minimal rations, inadequate shelter, physical 
discomfort, and constant danger; soldiers in garrisons were discon- 
tented, complaining tliat the ofTiccrs’ steaks or movies were better 
tlian theirs or that civilians had all tlie women and lush jobs.^^ -pjjg 
relative-deprivation interpretation of these findings (which, of 
course, admit of otlicr equally plausible interpretations) was later 
extended to a wide range of situational differences, including differ- 
ences in social status. This basic idea — tliat people become unhappy 
whatever their lot if confronted with visible evidence that the lot of 
others is better — permeates much current thinking and underlies 
such concepts as "The Revolution of Rising Expectations,” popular- 
wed by Walt Rostorv. 

There is obviously some truth in the concept of Relative 
Deprivation. As the contemporary' social-science rendering of the an- 
cient homily "Envy Breeds Discontent,” it bears the credentials of a 
well-respected piece of traditional wisdom. There is little doubt that 
the requisite conditions of the paradigm are in evidence in contem- 
porary United States; given a society with high valuation of material 
goods and a system of mass communication tliat exposes all sectors of 
the society to the spectacle of abundant and increasing wealth, it 
would be astonishing if many of those who felt tliey ivere not getting 
"a piece of the action” were not envious. 

Granting tlie plausibility of tliis argument, the question still 
remains as to whether the logical validity of Relative Deprivation has 
been sufEciently well established as to serv'e as the keystone of a 
cause-and-effect argument that justifies tlie expenditure of federal 
millions. It would seem not. Beneatli the surface appearance of 
plausibility lies a perfect jungle of the most intricate, abstruse, and 
thoroughly speculative philosophical issues. A few of tliese are; In 
what sense is it possible to grant validity to tlie contention that there 
is a "common value system” in the United States? To ivhat degree is 
the experience of status discontent or emy unique to low-status pop- 
ulations? How does its intensity compare to that of other popula- 

216 The Elimination of the Lower Class as National Policy 

loot stores. Status discontent, in and of itself, no matter how prevalent 
or acute, does not provide a sufficient motivational basis for general- 
ized social protest, nor a sufficient logical basis for explaining the 
behavior of lotv-status populations. The question remains: Under 
what circumstances does status discontent engender socially prob- 
lematic responses and under what does it not? 

A second major issue also concerns the consequences of status 
discontent. On the basis of certain social-psychological theories and an 
acceptance of the American value conception of the primaq’ of "hap- 
piness,” the Ideologists have placed almost exclusive emphasis on the 
detrimental consequences of discontent. According to the Ideolog)', 
lower-status persons make invidious comparisons between themselves 
and those of higher status, producing discontent that produces frus- 
tration that produces aggression, expressed or repressed, against oth- 
ers or oneself. Earlier generations entertained rather more flexible 
notions as to the consequences of discontent, one of them expressed 
in the homily “a man’s reach should exceed his grasp, else what’s a 
heaven for?” Even in the recent past the experience of status discon- 
tent, far from being held responsible for social unrest and all sorts of 
other ills, was seen as a prime moving force in the American success 
story. The lowly immigrant, farm boy, or city urchin, consumed tv’ith 
envy and discontent upon beholding the spectacle of wealth and 
power around him, was fired with an iron resolve to emulate the 
objects of his envy, and embarked on a life of dedicated and ener- 
getic productivity. 

Behind the simplifications of this stereotype lies an important 
element of validity; status discontent experienced by millions of 
American English, Irish, Italians, Jews — yes, and Africans — ^lias pro- 
vided a vital force behind achievements of great value to our society. 
The Ideologists admit only the possibility of detrimental conse- 
quences and regard such reasoning as reactionary. Discontent can 
engender detrimental, or beneficial, or other kinds of consequences. 
The question remains. What circumstances produce what kinds of 

A third question concerns that ancient issue, the relation of 
wealth and happiness. The Ideologists take as an axiom the proposi- 
tion that low income and unhappiness are inextricably associated, 
they are fond of making assertions such as “the poor are desperately 
unhappy,” and using the eradication of this postulated unhappiness 
as a major justification for the Movement. As is tlie case for other 
major premises of the “relative-deprivation” hypothesis, this conten- 

277 ^Valter Miller 

tion can claim litde substantial support on either logical or empirical 
grounds. A long and respectable philosophical tradition argues that 
there is no direct relation betiveen poverty and unhappiness, and 
eminent thinkers have even argued the opposite relation. Among 
these are ancient Jetvish and Christian theologians, and more re- 
cently in the United States, Henry Thoreau.^^ 

The logical argument for the proposition that low income in the 
United States produces miser)’ leans heavily on the “em7” and “in- 
Hdious self-comparison” notions. Granting that Jesus or Thoreau, in 
other times or contexts, could maintain that a paucity of material 
possessions is more \irtuous or more gratif)’ing or both, such a con- 
tention, it is claimed, could not possibly apply in contemporary 
America for reasons already suggested. Leaving aside at this point the 
knotty problem of ts’hat "happiness” might be (there has been 
notably little success in developing either logically acceptable or em- 
pirically testable deSnitions) , the question then evolves on the key 
issue of the relative degree of unhappiness of persons at higher and 
lotrer status levels. Fetv tvould maintain flatly that the wealthy are 
happy and the poor miserable, nor deny that there are sources of 
discontent arising directly from the conditions of both lotver- and 
middle-class life. Hots-ever, for the “lotr income produces miser)’” 
contention to sers’e as an adequate supporting proposition for the 
"relative-deprivation” h)’pothesis, the argument must clearly estab- 
lish that the balance of unhappiness lies unequivocally trith low- 
status populations. This it fails to do. 

The establishment of this proposition ^\•ould require valid infor- 
mation as to the namre, intensity’, and prevalence of both happiness 
and unhappiness at both lower and higher status levels. Such infor- 
mation might suggest that along TOth the highly publicized somces of 
imhappiness in the lives of those at lower levels (dirt, rats, flnandal 
difficulties, s’ulnerability to emty) there are also seldom-publicized 
sources of gratification that are less available to middle-class adults. 
Among these are a greater capacity’ to derive pleasmre from immedi- 
ate experience, more gratity’ing involvement in the affairs of paro- 
chial locality’ groups, less guilt over inadequate work performance, 
greater capacity to enjoy varied recreational experiences rrithout 
reference to beneficial consequences, and greater freedom from a 
sense of responsibility for the rvelfare of larger coUectirities. Against 
these one would have to balance the numerous sources of unhappi- 
ness associated svith adult middle-class life, such as guilt over not 
accomplishing enough of real significance, conflicts over the scope of 

218 The Elimination of the Lower Class as National Policy 

one’s work, social and organizational obligations, dissatisfaction with 
the seemingly superficial nature o£ most interpersonal relationships 
and the rarity of true intimacy, and chronic concern over perceived 
or anticipated failures in the enterprise of rearing one’s children. In 
the absence of adequate evidence, it is most likely, as discussed 
shortly, that the attribution by middle-class observers of acute un- 
happiness to low-status populations is based neither on logical nor 
empirical grounds, rather on personal projection. This is reflected in 
the words of Lee Rainwater: "If I had to live under these conditions, 
I would be miserable.’’ This is undoubtedly true, but it is not evi- 
dence, and it enables the Ideologists to evade the responsibility of 
demonstrating that the balance of unhappiness sufficiently favors the 
low status as to support the "deprivation” hypothesis.^s 

On logical grounds, then, the status of the concept of Depriva- 
tion is weak. In the course of shifting its meaning from an objective 
paucity of material essentials to a subjective experience of discontent 
relative to others, the set of propositions needed to support the con- 
cept has become increasingly conjectural and dependent on unexam- 
ined assumptions. The element of truth in the proposition that envy 
breeds discontent is not sufficient to support the conclusion that 
Relative Deprivation lies at the root of The Problem of The Poor, 
Status discontent has very different consequences under different cir- 
cumstances and cannot be regarded as a sufficient precondition for 
Deprivation. The concept must be regarded as legitimately arguable 
at best and clearly untenable at worst. 

However shaky the logical status of the concept of Deprivation, 
it might still help to justify the Movement if it were supported by 
reliable empirical findings. Through what kinds of evidence do the 
Ideologists attempt to establish the existence of Deprivation? They 
have facilitated their task by delineating at least four different kinds 
of Deprivation: absolute material, absolute nonmaterial, relative ma- 
terial, and relative nonraaterial. Techniques for measuring material 
deprivation in the absolute sense (e.g., malnutrition and disease result- 
ing from overexposure) , while not without problems, are probably the 
most reliable. However, as has been shown, the amount of depriva- 
tion thus demonstrable is far too little to justify the Movement. Such 
justification is predlc:ited on the existence of widespread nonmaterial 
deprivation in the relative sense, as evinced by subjectively perceived 
deficiencies in certain personal states or conditions relative to per- 
ceived states or conditions of others. 

Adducing evidence for such criteria poses formidable methodo- 

219 Walter Miller 

logical problems. Empirical indicators of Deprivation include the 
lack or relative absence of entities such as dignity, decency, self- 
respect, a sense of personal worth, meaningful work experiences, and 
the like. Difficulties in deriving reliable operational indexes to and 
data-collection methods for such entities are enormous. Currently, 
major techniques center around information elicited from infor- 
mants by interviewers. This procedure yields results ranging from 
fair to good in certain informational areas (date of birth, residence 
locale, years of schooling) ; in other areas, particularly those involving 
value preferences, emotional responses, or subjective states, the valid- 
ity of results is subject to the most profound question. This tech- 
nique is probably least reliable in situations in which questioner and 
respondent are of different social statuses and in which topics at issue 
have class-relevant value implications. Of particular relevance to 
interactional situations of this kind is that many lower-status persons 
regard the expression of sentiments concerning unhappiness, injus- 
tice, and misfortune as a routinely expected aspect of certain types 
of interaction with higher status persons.^® 

Even more damaging to the case for the empirical validity of 
Deprivation is the probability that many of the higher-status adher- 
ents of the Movement base their convictions on a form of evidence 
even weaker than interview-elicited sentiments — their own subjective 
reactions to their perceptions of the life-circumstances of low-status 
populations. An eloquent statement is provided by Lee Rainwater: 

For the individual who cannot avoid knowing about poverty and how the 
poor cope with their lives, there is at the most personal level a profound 
sense of perplexity and anxiety [sic] that arises when the regular person con- 
fronts his observations of how the poor live . . . The evidence available to 
regular people leads to a deeply felt belief that "I would not live that way; 
I could not live that way.” The basic human response . . . leads to a com- 
mon sense judgment . . . that tire . . . way of life is "unlivable” ... a 
perception of the situation as somehow unreal [italics, other than first, 


This is extremly revealing. It suggests that for many people the be- 
lief that The Poor are Deprived has very little to do with objective 
evidence of any kind, but is rather a manifestation of the familiar 
phenomenon whereby persons perceive and evaluate the traditions of 
another culture or subculture in terms of their own. Measured ac- 
cording to the perceptual framework and evaluative standards of 
one’s own class or subculture, which are perceived as absolute and 

280 The Elimination of the Lower Class as National Policy 

universal ("the regular people,” "basic human responses,” "common- 
sense judgments”) , the •jvay of life of otlicr classes or subcultures fre- 
quently appears as clisorgani/ed, distasteful, distressing ("perplexity," 
"anxiety," "unlivablc," "unreal"). This suggests that some of the 
most fundamental tenets of tlic Ideology derive to a greater degree 
from subjective responses such as the classic ethnocentric reaction 
than from evidence of any kind.’® 

It is clear, in summary, that the concept of Deprivation fails to 
achieve the degree of adequacy its central position in the Ideology 
requires. Faced r\’ith the fact tliat deprivation in an objective sense is 
too rare in the United States to justify the scope of the Movement, 
the Ideologists have attempted to enhance its justifying capacity by 
means of a logical argument whereby the essence of deprivation lies 
not in objectively determinable physical circumstances, but in sub- 
jective reactions to the circumstances of others. The validity of the 
concept must thus test on the logical adequacy of the argument and 
the empirical sujqrortability of its cojistiiuent premises. Neitlrer is 
adequate. The major premises of the argument can scarcely be con- 
sidered as established; all ate aiguable, some liighly dubious. With 
respect to empirical validation, basic concepts are either formulated 
so as to render empirical testing difiicult or impossible, or rest on 
kinds of evidence tliat arc highly questionable on methodological 
grounds. Failing acceptable logical or empirical support, many 
Ideologists maintain tlicir adherence to this concept essentially with- 
out reference to questions of evidence, but on Uic basis of deep and 
generally unconscious cultural or subcultural values. 


Each of the terms thus far discussed provides the Movement with one 
essential element of its basic formula. The problem is "poverty”: 
those subject to it are "the poor"; its basis is "deprivation.” It re- 
mains for the concept of "opportunity" to provide the guide to pro- 
gram, or tv’hat to do about the problem. The basic diagnostic 
statement provided by these terms is that The Poor are in Poverty 
because they are Deprived of Opportunity. The indicated course of 
action is thus clear; provide them the Opportunity they are Deprived 
of. This would appear to wrap up the rationale behind program 
development except for a few loose ends. Among these are tlie ques- 
tions, "Just what is this ‘Opportunity’ The Poor are Deprived of? 

281 Walter Miller 

and “How did they get to be Deprived of it?" The effort to tidy up 
these loose ends reveals that the Opportunity package is not quite as 
substantial as it first appears. 

Nothing could be more impeccably American than the concept 
of Opportunity. No true patriot could fail to endorse opportunity 
and decry its absence any more than he could fail to endorse mom’s 
apple pie or decry' moral collapse. But this concept must be ap- 
proached with great care, for rrithin the glowing lure of Opportunity 
as proffered by the Ideologists, there lies concealed a set of hooks — 
barbed and sharply pointed. It is inevitable tlrat so broad a term as 
opportunity be susceptible to widely varying interpretations, but 
code-rv'ord coimotations in this case shore a relation to apparent 
meanings that is unique among the concepts thus far considered. 
Code-word meanings of terms such as The Poor represent modifica- 
tions or specifications rrithin the same general sphere, but in the case 
of Opportunity, major code-reord connotations contrast sharply rvith 
apparent meanings. 

This term, as it appears in such time-tested phrases as “the land 
of opportunity,” refers to a kind of social order rvherein a set of basic 
rights and privileges, including suffrage, occupational choice, resi- 
dential choice, mate selection, legal and juridical rights, and many 
others are made equally available to aU citizens ivhatever their status 
ivith respect to certain major forms of intrasocietal differentiation — 
principally sex, race, religion, region, national ancesny, and, to some 
extent, age. In those documents that define national ideological prin- 
ciples (Declaration of Independence, Constitution, Bill of Eights, 
relevant Supreme Court rulings) , the concept applies primarily, 
though not exclusively, to legal rights. In recent years, hotrever, it 
has come increasingly to apply to the abridgement of rights through 
custom as well. The granting of suffrage to non-property-oismers, ex- 
slaves, and women all represent steps to^vard an ideal of a society 
wherein no important rights are withheld from citizens either by laiv' 
(restriction of francliise by sex, segregation of public facilities by 
race) or by custom (restrictive housing covenants, sex-prefei'ential 
hiring, religion of elected officials) . 

Few Americans who have given serious thought to the essential 
character of the American polity would fail to support this ideal of 
opportunity or to oppose attempts at its frustration. It is most dubi- 
ous, however, that such support would extend as well to a major code- 
word conceptualization of Opportunity. This formulation is an 

2S2 The Elimination of the Loioer Class as National Policy 

amalgam of disparate elements, including a traditional homily, a 
theory of social deviance, an analysis of soutltcrn urban leadership 
and classical early Mai-xism. Its major tenets arc as follows: 

1. In the United States, tvith its single-standard social order, there 
is a common and unitary conception of Tlic Good Life, whose 
major components ("success" and "achievement") are conceived 
as a semisolid package of valued resources. 

2. The term "Opportunity" applies sometimes to tltc package it- 
self, sometimes to the means to obtain it. 

3. "Access" to this Opportunity is conti oiled by a group called 'The 
Power Structure," comjmscd of variously specified members of the 

4. The power, afllucncc and prestige of this group rests directly on 
maintaining The Poor in a condition of powcrlcssncss, poverty, 
and stigmntiration; they arc victimized and exploited. 

5. 'Wcll-cntrcnchcd, tightly organired, and highly sensitive to their 
own interests, The Power Structure has a massive investment in 
the status quo and vigotously resists efforts to alter the distribu- 
tion of social atid economic resources on which its potver rests. 

6. It tints pursues a concerted poliq' of Denial of Opportunity' 
to The Poor, wherein the requirements of power always supersede 
those of justice. 

7. The only rvay to effect vitally needed social reforms is to set up 
competing poivcr structures to conduct programs centering on 
active social protest. 

8. ’fVhile \'iolcncc is not a necessary' component of sucli programs, 
it should be rcmcmbcicd that violcticc is often the only "lan- 
guage” The Power Structure will listen to and thus must be 
recognized as a necessary cost of vitally needed social reform.^® 

By rvhat process did the concept of opportunity come to repre- 
sent a set of tenets so divergent from traditional American political 
philosophies? As in the case of Deprivation, the concept as used by 
the Movement is based on a traditional homily modified through the 
concept-building process of social science. The notion that the rich 
get rich at the e.\pense of the poor is hardly novel, nor is tlie Marxian 
concept of tlie class struggle, but it took the creadve intellectual 
efforts of a group of academic sociologists to remold these ideas into a 
modernized and Americanized fomr that has exerted great influence 
on many persons in government and out who have never heard their 

283 Walter Miller 

names. 'Wldle part of a continuous intellectual stream in •svhich the 
names of Emile Durkheim and Robert Merton figure prominently, 
the persons most responsible for the contemporar)' transmutation of 
the Opportunity concept are Richard Clots'ard and Floyd Hunter. 

In 1958, before juvenile gangs and gang delinquency' had be- 
come pass^ as a national issue, a young prison social rvorker named 
Richard Clorrard rvTOte a brief essay in rvhich he proposed that in tire 
criminal rrorld as rrell as tlie noncriminal, the road to success can be 
pretty rocky if you don’t have the right attributes — personal and 
social.2® A short time later, in collaboration rrith another influential 
criminological sociologist, Lloyd Ohlin, Clo\\'ard developed and ex- 
panded this set of ideas to apply to a much larger range of 
phenomena — including, among otlier things, rrhy boys join gangs 
instead of going to college and tvhat kinds of gangs they join.-^ 

It is of direct significance to its future career that the meteoric 
rise of the concept of Opportunity was given impetus by Clotvard’s 
obsen'ation that the big bosses of what later came to be knorra as the 
Cosa Nostra pursued a stringently discriminatory policy as to ^vhom 
they would let into the Syndicate, and particularly into its top jobs. 
Among others, they discriminated against (and still discriminate 
against) non-Italians, nonmales, and nonrelatives.-^ This basic 
formulation — that “access” to “opportunity” is “denied” those who 
lack certain social characteristics — ^rdiile it undenrent modifications 
before ending up as an axiom of the Poverty Ideology’, nevertheless 
retained the marks of its origins. If one takes tlie formula, "Syrndicate 
bosses exclude people from favored positions in the Syrndicate on the 
basis of certain social characteristics,” and substitutes "The Power 
Structure” for “Sy’ndicate bosses” and “The Larger Society” for “The 
Syndicate,” the Opportunity formula emerges in pristine form. It is 
instructive to consider the impact on policy of an analysis of the 
United States and its leadership modeled in part on an image of 
Syndicate bosses ruthlessly excluding tliose s\’ho fail to meet a set of 
rigid membership requirements. 

Collaboration svith Ohlin botli expanded the scope and blunted 
the sharpness of Cloward’s earlier formulations. Delinquency and 
Opportunity is quite vague as to who or -what is doing the denying 
of Opportunity. It "^vould appear tliat the primary’ agency of 
Opportunity-denial is “The Society” — a generalized and imper- 
sonal entity rather than any particular subsector tliereof."® For 
example, the discussion of “Structural Barriers to Legitimate Oppor- 
tunity” is devoted largely to making tlie point that lower-class youth 

284 The Elimination of the Lower Class as National Policy 

can't go to college because they have to quit school early to go to 
work to make money their families need. This is called an “economic 
barrier” to the primary avenue to Opportunity (or perhaps the Op. 
portunity itself) — education. This coramonsense argument out of the 
cycle-of-poverty tradition appears to assign responsibility to “the sys- 
tem” itself, with its "socially structured deprivations.” 24 

It is immediately obvious that the requirements of the Move- 
ment are poorly served by assigning responsibility for Denial of Ac- 
cess to Opportunity to an impersonal social system with its “socially 
structured deprivations,” no matter how cruel and unjust that system 
may be in firing up its members with lofty aspirations without pro- 
viding the means to achieve them. Concretistic and moralistic, the 
Movement needs villains — specific, visible, tangible — to serve as the 
malign and personalized agents of denial. This vital element was 
provided by the concept of Power Structure, popularized in tlie mid- 
19505 by Floyd Hunter’s book on community leaders in a southern 
city .25 From a careful study, Hunter dretv the conclusion that be- 
neath a fa9ade of democratic process, basic decisions concerning 
major public issues (schools, housing, voting) were in fact made by a 
small and nonrepresentative clique he called “The Power Struc- 
ture.” The affairs of the local Negro community also were regulated 
by a black poiver structure, whose form and ideology paralleled that 
of the whites. 

The addition to the Ideology of a personalized villain, com- 
pounded of various aspects of discriminatory Cosa Nostra bosses, re- 
pressive prison officials, exploiting business tycoons, and southern 
segregationists, completed the major elements of the basic causational 
formula of the Movement: The Poor are In Poverty because they are 
Deprived of Opportunity by The Power Structure. This formulation 
is simple, direct, unambiguous — a classic theory of conspiratorial ex- 
clusionism. In the course of tlieir passage from the pages of Cloward, 
Ohlin, and Hunter to the flaming banners of the Great Crusade 
against Poverty of the igdos, the concepts of Opportunity and Power 
Structure acquired a host of accretions, emotional and semantic, that 
depart substantially from the careful and qualified statements of 
their scholarly antecedents. It is clear that these developments are well 
beyond the control of the original authors, but it is equally clear that 
it was tlieir ivritings that seeded and watered the soil in which they 

The Movement has its villain. It is now dear how The Poor 
became Deprived. A powerful and collusive Poiver Structure deliber- 

285 Walter Miller 

ately conspires, out of bigotry and narrow self-interest, to keep them 
down. The major device by ivhich they Victimize and Exploit The 
Poor is to deny tliem access to those resources on ivhich their own 
success is founded: advanced education, well-paying jobs, sound 
housing, political influence. Only through the effective application of 
counter-po-wer can the iron giip of the slum lords and establishment 
politicians be loosened and the rightful heritage of the dispossessed 
be realized. The smooth flow of this liturgy is, however, someivhat 
disturbed if one turns to consider in greater detail the actual identity 
of the villains themselves. Just ivho is, or are. The Poiver Structure? 

In the classic Marxist version of this morality play, all is clear. 
There is a major hero, the Noble Working Class, a major villain, the 
Capitalist Exploiters, a minor hero, the far-seeing and altruistic In- 
tellectuals, and a minor villain, the lowly Lumpenproletariat, that 
rock-bottom group too degraded to pursue revolutionary objectives. 
The Movement version of this cast of cliaracters holds some surprises. 
Who are its principal villains? They are monopolistic labor unions 
rigidly excluding minority groups; sadistic policemen brutally incit- 
ing explosive violence; greedy local politicians diverting for their 
own uses funds meant for The Poor; bigoted Mrs. Murphys refusing 
to rent their modest quarters to the objects of their bigotry; rural 
sheriffs who are not above murder to curb thi-eats to their power; 
blue-collar homeoivners zealously guarding their residential commu- 
nities from incursions by the unwanted and undertaking precipitous 
flight to tlie suburbs when such incursion occurs. 

This roster of villains at once suggests that a dramatic change 
has occurred in the traditional assignment of roles; ivith some excep- 
tions, the bulk of those included in the Movement’s cast of villains 
find their origins in what is generally called "the working class” — 
that very same group seiA'ing the Marxian drama as its major hero! 
While some of the villains may have eitlier working- or middle-class 
backgrounds (gouging local merchants, rat-tolerating slum lords, 
patronage-hungry mayors) , the background of the Movement’s modal 
villain is unmistakable working class. 

What, then, of its heroes? That very group so despised of the 
classic Marxists, the Lumpenproletariat, is now depicted in heroic 
proportions. It is they who have provided, now these many centuries, 
the sweat and sacrifice that have made this country great, and it is 
upon their prostrate backs that The Power Structure has climbed to 
the lofty heights of poiver and affluence they now occupy. It is !■ 
past time to redress this most grievous injustice and to give 

286 The Elimination of the Lower Class as National Policy 

The Poor — not a pitiful handout to buy them off, but their oim fair 
share of the -(vealth they did so much to create, at last to return what 
is rightfully owing to tliem by virtue of centuries of exploitation. 

And what of that arch-villain — the grasping monopolistic capi- 
talist? Again, surprises. While not entirely purged of evil, his villainy 
has been substantially diluted. He may even be moving to occupy tlte 
role of minor hero, now being vacated by tire intellectual. Many of 
these powerful captains of industry, far from resisting efforts to grant 
to The Poor what is rightfully theirs, actually take the lead in organ- 
izing and financing substantial Progi'ams for The Poor through their 
giant foundations; in adopting policies not only of nondiscrimina- 
tion but of actually seeking out minority-group employees if at all 
qualified; in relocating tlieir plants in the slums and setting up train- 
ing programs for the least qualified of the slum dwellers. Not only 
that. The wives of the rich hold meetings to plan programs for bring- 
ing The Poor to the affluent suburbs for inspirational visits, to attend 
school, or even to live; their children serve gladly as unpaid or low- 
paid volunteers, working quietly but doggedly to do •what they can to 
readmit the Dispossessed into The Larger Society.^® 

This remarkable reshuffling of role assignments must certainly 
be seen as a major contribution of the Ideology to traditional modes 
of allocating blame for The Plight of The Poor. The reassignment 
process is, to be sure, incomplete. Some of the Bourgeoisie and their 
lackeys are still clearly villainous; the pro-poor activities of the Capi- 
talists are not quite free of suspicion of being attempts to patch up 
the system by stopgap measures so as to forestall radical change; the 
heroic image of The Poor is still adulterated by other images that 
present them as pitiable objects of compassion or lacking in self- 
esteem .27 Withal, tlie shift has been great enough to astound an 
early twentieth-century socialist. 

The Power Structure, The Poor, and their associated rosters of 
heroes and villains provide for the War on Poverty a basic essential 
of a genuine movement — clear and concrete objects of love and hate. 
Woe betide the unfortunate who dares question the virtue of the 
heroes or the iniquity of the villains; he, too, is vilified. The most 
celebrated instance, in the middle igGos, of the elevation of a public 
figure to the official position of Enemy of the Movement is knowm as 
the Moynihan Affair. In 1965, D. P. Moynihan, a young political 
scientist working as an assistant secretary in tire U.S. Department of 
Labor, circulated a brief report on the Negro family, intended for 
limited intragovernmental distribution. Moynihan documented v'ith 

257 Walter Miller 

charts and tables the familiar thesis that child-rearing arrangements 
among low-status Negroes tend to take the form of the female-based 
household (see low-status life condition number 5, page 261) and 
argued that this characteristic, which he saw as a central, sustaining 
feature of lower-class life, was becoming increasingly prevalent, par- 
ticularly among urban Negroes.^® Through a series of complicated 
events, the Moynihan report became known to devotees of the Move- 
ment as a major departure from Ideological orthodoxy authored by a 
person who had the ear of the President 

What is the Moynihan issue? Outside the Movement and its 
special objectives, few informed persons would dispute the generali- 
zation that the life circumstances of any major sector of the popula- 
tion (for example, females, children. Catholics) derive in some part 
from characteristics of that population itself and in some part from 
the way in which they are regarded and treated by other sectors (for 
example, males, adults, Protestants) . For example, the relative scar- 
city of female corporation executives is due in some measure to male 
attitudes toward female executives and in some measure to the fact 
that most women are more interested in being wives and mothers 
than executives. It is obvious that a formulation along these lines 
would be quite unacceptable when applied to The Plight of The 
Poor since it does not make an unambiguous attribution of blame to 
one group and blamelessness to another. 

Moynihan’s unforgivable crime was not that he impugned the 
sex morality of Negro adults, denied “togetherness” to Negro child- 
rearing units, or ascribed criminality to the products of broken black 
homes; his crime, in fact, bore only an oblique relationship to the 
character of the Negro family as such. The crux of his heresy lay in 
the implication that some part of the cause for the circumstances of 
low-status populations can be located in the characteristics of these 
populations themselves — ^whatever the influence on these character- 
istics one may attribute to other populations — as well as in the 
bigotry and exploitative policies of The Power Structure. 

A critical test for the authenticity of a cult movement lies in the 
intensity of anger evinced by the faithful when a basic tenet of the 
ideology is called into question by someone who cannot easily be 
ignored. The bitterness and virulence of Movement attacks on the 
Moynihan report leave no doubt as to the genuineness of The Pov- 
erty Movement. What makes the intensity of the castigation all the 
more striking is the elaborate care taken by Moynihan to avoid even 
the tiniest implication that he was blaming the heroes of the Move- 

288 The Elimination of the Lower Glass as National Policy 

ment; to the contrary, he insisted repeatedly that their plight was an 
absolutely predictable consequence of prevalent policies of the domi- 
nant society — its selfish support of slavery, its racial bigotry, iu 
criminal neglect of the newly urbanized. Alas. All to no avail. How- 
ever elaborately qualified, the merest suggestion that some part of 
The Problem of The Poor might be attributable to causes other than 
Power-Structure villainy tvas enough to make the tvord “Moynihan" 
the Movement code rvord for this grievous heresy.^o 

But even more. It is for the apostate that the cult reserves its 
bitterest enmity. The faithful can readily identify their conventional 
villains because they customarily attribute to The Poor a set of 
stereotyped characteristics such as laziness, irresponsibility, disorder, 
sexual looseness, lack of ambition, and so on. In strong contrast, the 
language and conceptual framework of the Moynihan report are pre- 
cisely that of the orthodox Ideology', ivith its references to barriers to 
opportunity, tangles of pathology', unstable family structures, cycles 
of poverty, deprivation, alienation, deterioration, social breakdotra, 
and all the rest. Here is the reason for the intensity of the hatred; it 
is one of us who now nourishes the enemy by providing him with 
new' and potent ammunition. Moynihan himself, seeing his work as a 
contribution to and not a negation of the Ideology', w’as astonished at 
the vigor of the attacks, and only dimly understanding their basis, 
hurt and angry. 

The concept of Opportunity clearly has done y'eoman service for 
the Movement. It raised the stars and stripes at the head of the 
columns of Poverty Warriors; it furnished the basic rationale for its 
programs of action; it provided a name for the federal agency 
charged with major responsibility for Poverty; it produced the 
scenario and delineated the heroes and villains for the starkly simple 
drama of The Poor; it ascribed perfidy and virtue, blame and inno- 
cence. Surely it is uncharitable to ask even more of a concept that has 
already given so much, but one is compelled to press one further 
question: How adequately does Opportunity provide a logical and 
explicit conceptual basis for policy? It tvould appear, alas, that it 
serves this latter purpose rather less well. Among its inadequacies in 
this respect are conceptual ambiguity, concealment of major objec- 
tives, misleading reliance on spatial imagery, and recourse to blame 
in lieu of analysis. 

For a concept that serves, along w'ith its other functions, as the 
basic guide to the action programs of the Movement, the meaning of 
Opportunity is surprisingly elusive. Turning to the works of Cloward 

289 Walter Miller 

and Ohiin which provide the basic charter for the concept as used by 
the Movement, one is at once struck by the fact that nowhere is tlie 
definition of Opportunity addressed directly. In contrast to the care- 
ful attention devoted to its coordinate concept "delinquency” in De- 
linquency and Opportunity, Opportunity remains in these works as 
it does for the Movement, a "primitive” or undefined concept.^* 
To discover what it is intended to mean one must examine its use in 
tlie various contexts in which it appears. This reveals not only that 
the meanings of Opportunity shift around within the same tvork, but 
tiiat the concept as a whole undergoes a fascinating transmutation 
between earlier and later formulations. 

It is never quite clear, in the first place, whether Opportunity is 
a means to an end or an end in itself. In plmases such as "access to,” 
"baniers to,” or "denial of” Opportunity, it appears to be the actual 
objective to be achieved. Elsetvhere, in analyses of "means” to "suc- 
cess goals” or in analogies to "avenues,” it appears as a means to a 
further objective. The former implication is probably due in large 
part to tlie "solid-structure” imager)' to be discussed shortly, and 
since the latter usage is clearly more prevalent, discussion will be 
confined to a consideration of Opportunity as means. 

IVhat is the end or ends to which Opportunity is the means? In 
Cloward’s earlier paper as tvell as in Delinquency and Opportunity it 
would appear to be "success” (called "success goals” or "success 
values”) . Two distinct conceptions of "success” appear: One is that 
common and uniform criteria for success hold for the whole so- 
ciety and for all social classes; the other, that there are different 
conceptions of success at different social levels. "While the theo- 
retical argument of Delinquency and Opportunity is predicated on 
the validity of tlie first conception, the second plays a prominent 
role in Cloward’s earlier paper and parts of the book written with 
Ohiin. At least tliree different varieties of success are distinguished: 
legitimate lower class (boxer, night-club entertainer) , illegitimate 
lower class (racketeer, pimp) , and legitimate middle class (school- 
teacher, banker) .2= The fourth logical type, illegitimate middle class 
(embezzler, real-estate sivindler) , is not explicitly treated. This formu- 
lation readily permits the concept of Opportunity to apply to success 
as a numbers runner or syndicate boss, as seen earlier. In fact, 
Cloward maintains at one point that the Opportunity theor)’ applies 
primarily to success in lower-class terms — to slum youth who want to 
be successful "within tlieir own cultural milieu” — that is, to make 
lots of money but not to adopt middle-class forms of behavior.^ 

290 The Elimination of the Lower Class as National Policy 

By the time the concept appears as the major guide to the pro- 
grams of Mobilization for Youth, a lineal precursor of the Office of 
Economic Opportunity, it has undergone a significant change. The 
"success” to which Opportunity is a means has become restricted 
almost entirely to one of the earlier four types— legitimate middle 
class. While traces of the earlier usage are still in evidence, the 
developed theoretical rationale has essentially abandoned the idea 
that “access to opportunity” can apply to success as a boxing cham- 
pion, let alone a syndicate boss. This constriction is signaled by die 
increasing use of the term "conformity” in place of “success” to de- 
note the end for ivhich Opportunity is a means,^® 

While the concept of conformity, in common with that of Op- 
portunity, assumes di/Terent means in different contexts (in some 
places it appears in opposition to "dcviancy” to denote law-abiding 
behavior) , a major usage clearly indicates that what conformists con- 
form to is the idealized standards of middle-class life, or some 
amalgam of middle- and "stable working”-class life. Thus, one 
achieves conformity if of lower-class origins not by adhering to the 
customai 7 practices of one’s class, as one does if middle class, but by 
an active effort to deviate from these practices by engaging in what is 
called "upward social mobility" by the social scientists and "social 
climbing” by tiie socially ensconced. Thus, in the course of its evolu- 
tion, Opportunity starts out as a concept for explaining impediments 
to becoming a successful racketeer or prison inmate and ends up as 
the Movement code svord for an old, familiar friend — the process of 
elevating one’s social position. 

If, then, when the Ideologists say that a primary goal of the 
Movement is the "enhancement of opportunity,” w'hat they really 
mean is “the movement of lower-class persons toss'ard middle-class 
status,” the requirements of policy would be far better sen’ed if this 
were stated plainly and directly. It would then be possible to subject 
this particular objective to a rational and methodical examination- 
something that is quite impossible so long as it appears only in its 
crj'ptic code-tvord disguise. Some questions might be: How feasible is 
the objective of elevating social status? For what numbers of persons? 
For ■ivhat categories of persons? How’ desirable is it? For what num- 
bers? For ■ivhat categories? Hoiv far in the social scale are loiver-status 
persons to rise? What periods of time is elevation of various distances 
expected to take? What are possible consequences of varying degrees 
of success? Of limited success? Of extensive success? Are tliere possibly 
undesirable side-effects, and if so, wdiat are tliey? Should those who 

291 Walter Miller 

do not now wish to change their status be persuaded to do so, and if 
so, how? Questions of this kind, while far from simple, are at least 
susceptible to systematic examination, and the objective as a whole 
can be compared to others as one in a range of possible objectives. 
Such consideration cannot be directed to an objective phrased as “the 
enhancement of opportunity," since, in the United States, as shown 
earlier, the worth of opportunity is as unchallengeable as its meaning 
is vague.30 

The concept of Opportunity renders still another disservice. 
Present discussion has referred to this concept in the form “opportu- 
nity,” but in the works of Cloward and Ohlin, as well as in many 
derived Ideological writings, it appears more frequently in the form 
"the opportunity structure,” coordinate with its companion concept, 
“the power structure.” The presence of the words “the" and “struc- 
ture” is hardly of incidental significance. This usage derives from and 
reflects a dominant characteristic of the Movement — the use of a 
“solid-structure” imagery that is so deeply ingrained and pervasive as 
to be virtually unconscious. 

As is the case for other major usages, the Movement is indebted 
for the solid-structure imagery to academic social science, in which 
this usage has been endemic for years, often for similar reasons. The 
word “structure” is appended to a wide range of terms with varying 
justification. Sometimes it is used to impart an aura of scientific 
substantiality to highly abstract constructs (ego structure, the struc- 
ture of action) ; sometimes it signals a special technical meaning for a 
word in common lay usage (social structure, personality structure) ; 
sometimes it signifies a more extended field of concern than is im- 
plied by the unmodified term (kinship structure) ; often it serves all 
three purposes, and others. While there is obviously some legitimacy 
in each of these usages (in some more than others) , there is a great 
temptation to apply the term indiscriminately, particularly when 
social scientists feel insecure about the unstructured base concept. 
One might speculate that the greater the insecurity, the more likely 
the use of the word "structure.” 

It is immediately obvious that the term "structure” comes as a 
Godsend to the Movement. Faced with the contradiction between a 
need for concepts that give an impression of solidity, and the reality 
of concepts that are for the most part ephemeral and insubstantial, 
the use of the term “structure” appears inevitable. “The Structure of 
Poverty” of course, completely predictable; “The Structure of 
Deprivation,” rather surprisingly, is not yet current, but the advent 

292 The Elimination of the Lower Class as National Policy 

of “The Structure of Discontent” 38 would suggest it might be on its 
way. The urge to further harden up relatively "hard” concepts is 
reflected in usages such as “The Structure of Community Organiza- 
tion” 30 creating a precedent for “The Structure of Social Structure,” 
or possibly “The Structure of Structure.” 

The solid-structure mode of conceptualization, of which the 
ubiquitous afSxation of “structure” is only one manifestation, pro- 
ceeds in a characteristic fashion. One first represents complex 
processes or abstract relational systems as concrete objects or physical 
structures and then proceeds to treat the original phenomena as if 
they had the properties of their analogues. This is clearly illustrated 
in the devices used by the Movement to refer to low-status residential 
communities. Two major metaphorical conventions appear in the 
works of Cloward and Ohlin and in corresponding parts of The 
Ideology: The first constructs an imagery of being walled out; the 
second of being walled in. 

The walled-out imagery depicts “opportunity” or "the larger 
society” as a glorious castle or mansion whose lush environs are sur- 
rounded by high fences or walls that the excluded Poor are intently 
determined to breach and the entrenched Rich as intently deter- 
mined to defend. This imagery explains otherwise puzzling usages 
such as "barriers to,” “access to,” “obstacles to,” or "avenues to" 
Opportunity or Success Goals. The “walled-in” imagery pictures the 
Affluent as constructing walls around the communities of The Poor 
instead of (or perhaps in addition to) around their own; thence 
terms such as “the prison” or “the ghetto.” It would appear that the 
walled-out imagery was more popular during earlier phases of tlie 
Movement, with the walled-in version moving rapidly to the fore- 
front during later phases. Representing low-status communities as 
"ghettos” was perhaps the single most successful merchandising ven- 
ture of the entire Movement. ■^0 The “prison” imagery (quite pre- 
dictable since both Cloward and Ohlin developed basic concepts out 
of their prison studies) also continues to- flourish, as witness such 
fanciful constructs as “patterns which block tlie escape from pov- 

But after all, what harm is done? Expression in English is next 
to impossible without some use of metaphor, and all these images 
and analogies might be seen merely as devices for adding a little 
color to otherwise rather drab concepts. Moreover, this general ap- 
proach has produced useful predictive models in fields such as eco- 
nomics (fiscal structure) and physics (wave theory) . As applied by 

293 Walter Miller 

the Ideologists to problems of low-status populations, however, it is 
neither harmless nor productive of useful models. 

The representation of complex social processes and systems of 
relationships as solid blocks of matter provides a dramatic illustra- 
tion of the conflicting requirements of a movement and those of 
sound policy formulation. However distasteful to those committed 
to rapid social reform, the hard reality is that the circumstances 
of low-status populations, the character of their communities and 
their relations to other sectors of the society, are enormously com- 
plex, and knowledge as to effective modes of change is exceed- 
ingly primitive. A movement demands simplicity, concreteness, un- 
ambiguity, both of diagnosis and prescription. The image of a mono- 
lithic Power Structure depriving The Poor of Access to The Larger 
Society tlrrough Barriers of Opportunity is simple and satisfying: as a 
basis for sound policy, however, it is misleading at best and dan- 
gerous at worst. 

Even more serious. The conversion of complex processes and 
relational systems into concrete objects like power structures and 
opportunity structures and ghettos and prisons creates an illusion of 
manipulability that is bound to produce disillusionment. Building 
blocks can be carted around, walls can be raised or lowered, struc- 
tures can be built, renovated, demolished, with relative ease. Modes 
of exercising authority or relations between sectors of a society can- 
not. The pervasive and often unconscious influence of the solid- 
structure conceptualization creates an unrealistic impression of the 
ease with which fundamental forms of social change can be effected. 
Having bought the walls-and-barriers imagery, people are terribly 
disappointed when an easing of legal or custom-based restrictions 
fails to produce an easy and ecstatic passage out of the Ghetto and 
into the Mansion. The illusion of manipulability is further fostered 
by the importation of inappropriate metaphors from economics. One 
reads, for example, of the "redistribution of opportunity,” as if it 
could be sliced up and parceled out .^2 Money and tangible commod- 
ities can be distributed and redistributed; opportunity, an abstract 
concept, cannot. 

Opportunity is not a structure that people are either inside or 
outside of. Americans may achieve widely varying degrees of success 
or failure in a thousand different spheres and in a thousand different 
ways.^3 Beaming to lower-status people the message than one can 
attain “success goals” by breaching, demolishing, or otherwise forcing 
the “walls” that bar them from “opportunity” conveys a tragically 

294 The Elimination of the Lower Class as National Policy 

oversimplified and misleading impression of the conditions and cir- 
cumstances of success, in addition to fostering an imagery with poten- 
tially destructive consequences. 

Society-wide decision-making in the United States is not invested 
in a "power structure,” let alone "the" power structure. The agendes 
of authority are enormously diverse, exercising power, authority and 
influence of widely varying degrees in thousands of different spheres 
of social, political, and economic endeavor. While a substantial de- 
gree of mutual agreement and concerted action must obviously ob- 
tain among different agencies of this vast system at different times 
and under different circumstances, to represent the exercise of power 
in the United States as the prerogative of a monolithic and collusive 
power structure is tendbly misleading, fostering in lower-status per- 
sons the hope that their problems will be solved if only they can 
somehow induce "the potver structure” to listen and act. 

Lower-class residential areas are 7iot ghettos in tvhich homo- 
geneous populations are confined by state-supported force. While 
many urban slums are predominantly Negro (as many are predomi- 
nantly white) , the average lower-class district contains a mixture of 
different races, religions, national backgrounds, and status levels 
within the lotver class. The question of tvhy people live in slums 
rather than elsewhere is far more complicated than is implied by the 
simple analogy to tvalled-in districts of medieval cities in which per- 
sons of divergent religious beliefs were compelled, by state fiat, to 
reside. Of course, race prejudice can restrict one's choice of housing 
in "better” residential areas, but by picturing slum residents as help- 
less pawns of Potver Structure exclusionism, tire Ideolog)' entirely 
ignores those influences that attract people to these areas, stressing 
only those that keep them from others.^^ 

Urban lorver-class communities are not prisons, nor are govern- 
mental officials prison guards. Prisons are peopled by society’s most 
serious lawbreakers who are assigned to particular institutions with 
no personal choice and confined therein by state-supported force; 
slums are peopled by citizens ■whose choice of particular communities 
is essentially their own. Such communities shotv high rates of residen- 
tial movement, hotli within and between neighborhoods, and the 
daily life of the average resident is just as free of official supervision, 
if not freer, than that of middle-class persons. Those whose political 
power may affect such communities, through federal, state, or local 
office, have no power to dictate residence locale nor to determine who 
may move in or out. However strong the temptation to indulge m 

295 Walter Miller 

fanciful metaphors like the iron bars of prejudice and patterns that 
block tlie escape from Poverty, or to equate slum riots with prison 
riots, the whole prison imagery, like the rest of the Ideology’s solid- 
structure imagery, represents an abdication of the responsibility to 
base policy formulation on careful examination of the actual charac- 
ter of lower-class life. 

The concept of Opportunity, finally, seriously impedes the task 
of developing satisfactory answers to a vital question: How can one 
account for the circumstances of the present-day lower class? The 
Opportunity frame of reference, with its villains and heroes, evil 
Power Structure and noble Poor, theories of conspiratorial exclusion- 
ism, and all the rest, embodies an approach whose major thrust is not 
the development of useful explanations but the attribution of blame. 
A major participant in the Moynihan controversy put his position in 
these words: "The real issue is: Who is to blame?" This is precisely 
what the real issue is not. The Opportunity thesis, as used by the 
Movement, has fostered a tragic confusion of explanation and 

The “Who is to blame?” response is not at all unusual. Attribu- 
tion of blame is, in fact, the "normal” method used by most humans 
to account for most human troubles. Evil beings, natural or super- 
natural, are generally regarded as responsible for tire majority of 
human problems. Classic modern examples are found in explanations 
for juvenile delinquency (the fault of bad, neglecting parents) and 
prostitution (victimization by exploiting males) . It is precisely be- 
cause blame attribution is so natural that those responsible for expla- 
nations that guide policy must be particularly on guard against it.^® 
Unfortunately, this habit of thinking is quite characteristic of many 
of the scholars who have contributed to the rationale for the Move- 
ment, although their ascriptions of blame are generally muted 
through the conventional locutions of scholarly discourse. 

Negro leaders, by contrast, have little compunction about using 
the word "blame” and designating villains directly. 

The real issue is: Who is to blame? Is it the Negro . . . born into a miser- 
able vermin-infested apartment . . . not really taught to read, write, or 
count . . . educated in the street? The disorder, the alienation, the violence 
of the ghetto ... are imposed.'*^ 

Once we admit that Negroes are in no way to blame for their predica- 
ment, the minimum consequence would be respect for persons of color and 
persons who are poor; (they are in this predicament) because racism runs 
rampant through our institutional structure.^® 

296 The Elimination of the Lower Class as National Policy 

By laying the primary blame for present-day inequalities on the path- 
ological condition of the Negro family and community, Moynihan has pro- 
vided a massive cop-out ... It has been the fatal error of American sodetv 
to ultimately blame the roots of poverty and violence . . . upon Neurnpc 

Scholars generally tend to avoid the word "blame,’’ but manage 
to communicate the same idea. 

The explanations (of Negro life) almost always focus on the supposed 
defects of the Negro victim as if these, and not die racist structure of Amer- 
ican society, were the cause of all die woes ... If we are to believe the neiv 
ideologies, we must conclude that segregation and discrimination are not 
the terrible villains we diought they were.®® 

Both the white and Negro middle chass — not to mendon the white 
lower class — have a considerable investment in die status quo which con- 
demns the poor Negro to membership in a powerless, deprived underdass 
. . . most whites arc more driven to revenge than reform when Negro 
deprivation does reach into their lives.®* 

If one applies tlie culture of poverty to the poor, the onus for change 
falls too much on the poor, when, in reality, the prime obstades to the 
elimination of poverty lie in an economic s^’stem whidi is dedicated to the 
maintenance and increase of wealdi among the already affluent.®® 

The culture of poierty is both an adaptation and reaction of the poor 
to their marginal position in a class-stratified, highly individuated, capital- 
istic society. (Their problems arc) not met by existing institutions and 
agencies . . . Often (the culture of poverty) results from imperial conquest 
in which the native social and economic structure is smashed.®® 

Among the objects of blame designated or implied in the above 
quotations are the racist structure of American society, the white 
middle class, the Negro middle class, the tvhite lotver class, the afflu- 
ent, a class-stratified capitalistic society, and sodal-structure-smashing 
imperialists. Probably the most popular villain of the Movement is a 
stereotyped bigot who stereotypes lower-class people ("laz^',” "depend- 
ent," "aggressive,” "destructive”) . Some authors choose to scapegoat 
these scapegoaters tvith a "look who’s talking” approach. 

The middle classes, of course, have their own faults. They . . . use their 
verbal facility ... to make themselves comfortable about their generally 
undeserved positions of affluence ... in which they manage to obtain the 
most pay and security for doing easy and interesting kinds of work.®* 

This blaming-the-blamers tactic, along with that of the Negro leaders 
— "You say we’re to blame but we say you’re to blame” — assumes the 

291 Walter Miller 

form of the classic dialogue between eight-year-olds, "It's your faultl” 
"No, it’s your fault," witli about as much profit. 

Are there any alternatives? Is it possible for humans to develop 
explanations for highly charged, highly problematic social situations 
without taking sides or invoking devils? Such explanations have been 
forwarded for particular social problems, but it is probably safe to 
say that the attempt to develop a comprehensive and blame-free ex- 
planation for the life circumstances of the American low-skilled la- 
boring class has never been seriously undertaken.®'* Such an enter- 
prise would have to incorporate several assumptions. It would take as 
a premise, first of all, that no broad category of persons is any more 
or less virtuous, or any more or less villainous, than any other — men 
or women, adults or adolescents, whites or blacks, upper class, middle 
class, or lotver class, northerners or southerners, employers or employ- 
ees, professionals or laborers. 

It tvould assume, further, that each of these categories of persons 
has a set of class interests that are directly related to the general 
welfare of that particular category or class; that these class interests 
arise logically and understandably from the conditions of existence of 
each class and the kinds of tasks its members customarily pursue; that 
there is in large differentiated societies a complex division of labor 
whereby each societal class performs different kinds of tasks and 
serves different functions, each making some important contribution 
to the welfare of the total society. It would assume that in no society 
is it possible to maximize all these class interests at the same time, so 
that there will always exist true conflicts of interest among the several 
classes that arise from their differing circumstances and operating 

It would also assume that attempts by particular classes, given 
circumstances of limited resources, to maximize their own class inter- 
ests at the expense of impinging classes are natural and expectable 
and may be animated by motives other than greed and selfishness; it 
would hope, if not assume, that policy makers at the highest levels 
could take as their own class interest tlie collective welfare of the 
entire set of classes and remain as nonpartisan as possible as to the 
virtue or villainy of any or all of the many scores of classes, each 
striving to further its own interests. 

Such an explanation, evidently, would be too complicated, too 
inclusive, too neutral, to serve the true-believer purposes of the 
Movement. But the complexity and intellectual difficulty of this en- 
terprise are not, in all probability, the major reason it has not been 

298 The Elimwation of the Lower Class as National Pohc^; 

undertaken. One of the most delicious gratificadons knou-n to ir.^n 
that of luxuriating in righteous indignation at tlie prospect o' c-, 
absolutely unequivocal case of social injustice. Scholars of socicts, i- 
general, have not distinguished themselves in tlie degree to vhicc 
they are trilling to forego this pleasme. It is, in fact, a prindpi 
incentive for many in a field in which, heaven knotos, gratification; 
are fetv enough, and the tvisdom of depriving them of this opportu 
nity -would have to be considered tvith great care. Hotcever, this 
indulgence, like all indulgences, has its cost, and the cost in this ca«c 
is a tragic shortage of the kind of detailed, balanced, and objectisc 
knowledge tliat is the sine qua non of effective poliq-. This co>t. 
swept in on the wide and surging tide of tlie opportunity formula- 
tion, has been great. 


On the face of it, the rationale and major objective of the federal 
anti-poverty programs of the 1960s seem clear and unambiguous. It 
became apparent in the 19505 tliat the United States was experiencing 
the highest level of material prosperity in its history and probably the 
highest ever experienced by any nation. And yet, in the face of this 
unprecedented wealth, there still remained “pockets of poverty,” cer- 
tain urban and rural communities whose residents were not sharing 
tlie general bounty, and who, in fact, continued to pursue an age-old 
mode of existence characterized by low income, low education, 
sporadic involvement in low-skilled occupations, sporadic paternal 
participation in home life, inelegant residential fadlities, and all the 
rest. Surely it should be -within the power of tliis mighty nation, at the 
peak of its material success, to eradicate these pockets and to acluese 
for the first time in human history the ancient dream of the elimina- 
tion of poverty. While tlie exact means for achieving this objective 
were not immediately evident, it did appear that a principal ap- 
proach involved a relatively simple matter of redistribution- 
spreading out the vast -tvealth of the nation so as to reduce pro- 
nounced discrepancies beteveen the very rich and the very' poor. 

In the late 1960s, as this is being -^vTitten, this dream had faded. 
The apparent simplicity of the problem and its indicated solution 
has burgeoned into a thousand complex fragments; optimism that the 

299 Walter Miller 

nation controlled the potver and resources to solve this problem has 
turned to pessimism. It is too early to pronounce as a failin-e the 
1960s phase of the nation’s attempt to cope ivith the problems of its 
low-skilled laboring class, but it is quite dear that it cannot be pro- 
nounced a success. Many of the programs set up in accordance ivith 
the Poverty-Deprivation-Opportunity formulation are simply not 
amenable to reliable evaluation, and it is unlikely that anyone ivill 
ever knoiv ivhat they have accomplished or failed to accomplish. 
Evidence for the effectiveness of those programs for which evaluation 
has been undertaken is highly ambiguous — even on the basis of re- 
search conducted by the admittedly partisan staffs of the operating 
agendes themselves. Despite strong incentives to demonstrate success, 
this research has had great difficulty in addudng evidence for the 
achievement of even the immediate goals of the several sub-programs 
of the Poverty effort (for example, youth employment training, edu- 
cational programs) , let alone its major goal of eliminating, or even 
significantly redudng, "poverty.” 

One apparently dear-cut indicator of success or failure — the 
amount and intensity of large-scale domestic violence — is in fact sus- 
ceptible to highly divergent interpretations. The gross trend itself is 
dear; the scope and intensity of dtizen violence in the urban slums 
of the United States between the years 1964 and 1967 increased in 
direct proportion tvith the increase in the scope and intensity of the 
federal Poverty programs. Moreover, some of the dties experiendng 
the most intensive rioting tvere those tvith the most intensive pro- 
grams. The apparent relationship — the more Poverty-program activ- 
ity, the more violence, and a possible conclusion that Poverty activity 
tvas one major cause of the rioting — cannot be used as evidence for 
the failure of the Poverty movement.®'^ It could be so used only if the 
prevention or inhibition of urban violence tvere taken by the Move- 
ment as an explidt objective, and this is by no means the case. In 
fact, a prindpal tenet of the Opportunity formulation, as shotm on 
page 282, is that it is impossible to "reach” The Power Structure 
except by forceful methods, with physical violence by no means fore- 
closed. Moreover, the "rising-expectations” thesis postulates that peo- 
ple sunk in the depths of Apathy and Deprivation are far too passive 
to do anything as energetic as rioting, but that once they have been 
sufiBdendy helped by public programs to improve their circumstances 
so that their energies are no longer totally consumed by the simple 
for survival, and also to better appredate the degree of 

500 The EUminalion of the Lozver Class cs Felice 

injustice inhering in their condition, revolt is both po^^iblc and ex- 
pectable. On tlie basis of this argument, the increase of citiren m'o- 
lence in the United States can be taken as direct es-idcncc of th' 
success of the Movement, and tine more violence, the more success 

For many adherents of the Movement, the major reason for in 
lack of success seas simple and directly evident. Barely undenvav on 
the IVar on Poverty, and devoting to it only a fraction of what it 
required, the nation became heavily involved in an ill-advised, im- 
moral war in Asia, thus bringing to a halt the allocation of resources 
needed to advance the domestic War, or, at best, limiting it to a 
holding action. The hopes of the downtrodden having been raised 
only to be cruelly crushed, it would be amazing if they did not react 
out of frustration and despair. Thus, in perfect accord with the spirit 
of The Ideology, The Plight of The War on Poverty is laid to vciy 
specific villains — the evil Political Administration — ^just as The 
Plight of The Poor is laid to the evil Posver Structure. 

This chapter has focused on a very different kind of reason for 
ineffectiveness of the national effort. It contends that a central cause, 
although by no means the only cause, lies in the inadequacy of its 
underlying conceptual rationale. The enterprise at issue — whether 
described as a "war on poverty” or as attempts to accommodate con- 
temporary problems of the low-skilled laboring class and its relation 
to the rest of society — is of enormous complexity and scope. Simple 
common sense would indicate the need for a conceptual rationale of 
commensurate scope. This vital need was not met. The basic ele- 
ments of the ideological rationale that guided the federal War on 
Poverty were taken over in a curiously casual fashion from a doomed 
enterprise in a related area.os Infused with unexamined values, 
* riddled rvith empirically unsupported assumptions, hobbled by inter- 
nal inconsistencies and contradictory directives®® peppered with 
oblique and deceptive code words, permeated tvith oversimplified 
imagery and misleading analogy, confounding means and ends, abso- 
lute and relative, explanation and recrimination — the emergence of 
effective policy from this ideology would have been little short of 

It is of the most direct significance that some of those who were 
most active in shaping federal policy would counter the assertion that 
its underlying conceptual rationale was inadequate by the claim that 
there was in fact no conceptual rationale, but that program proposals 
were guided largely by pragmatic, ad hoc considerations such as the 

301 Walter Miller 

availability of particular programs, interests of relevant governmen- 
tal agencies, and simple happenstance.®® This contention is striking 
in the face of the extraordinary consistency of language used by these 
men, with terms such as barriers to opportunity, escape from poverty, 
the poor, deprivation, alienation, apathy, the power structure, and 
all the rest appearing repeatedly in their speech and witings. This 
terminology, it should now be evident, derives from and reflects one 
very particular and highly distinctive conceptual framework. The 
classic manifestation of a deep-rooted and pervasive belief system lies 
in the conviction by believers that their perceptions are not the 
product of a “belief system” at all, but, like the air they breathe, 
simply the way things are, the substance of reality. The very fact that 
the frame of reference that in fact guided the poverty programs was 
so unconsciously taken for granted is powerful evidence for the con- 
clusion that it was never examined or evaluated in any explicit or 
systematic fashion. 

However well the Poverty Ideology may serve the purposes of a 
cult movement, it is critically inadequate as a basis of effective policy 
formulation. Many of its deficiencies have been indicated in previous 
sections; two others, treated in greater detail in the expanded version 
of this chapter, will be mentioned briefly. The first concerns the phe- 
nomenon of the definition-generated objective. The kinds of solu- 
tions seen as appropriate to any problem bear a critical relation to 
the way in which the problem is defined in the first place.®t Nazi 
Germany’s “final solution to the Jewish problem” was essentially 
predetermined by the way the “problem” was defined; just so the 
movement’s solution to “The Problem of Lower-Class Culture” ®2 is 
implicit in its definitions. Pathological, disorganized, deprived, 
alienated, excluded, apathetic, violent, victimized, exploited — ^The 
Poor of The Poverty Movement can be accorded only one possible 
future. Their way of life must be liquidated, and they themselves 
transformed into something different as rapidly and as efficiently as 
possible. The inevitability with which this prescription flows from 
the diagnosis radically restricts the range of options open to policy 
makers. An enterprise less rigidly restrained by its ideology could 
entertain a range of differing diagnoses, greatly expanding its chances 
for developing other, and potentially more effective, prescriptions. 

A second additional difficulty with the Poverty Ideology relates 
to its potential for engendering costly reactions. Two useful concepts 
of social science concern "unintended side-effects” of directed action 

302 The Elimination of the Lower Class as National Policy 

and the "self-fulfilling prophecj'”; both are relevant to the relation 
bettveen the Ideology and tn-ban violence in the 1960s. As already 
mentioned, the causes of a phenomenon as ividespread and consist- 
ently patterned as the urban riots must be multiple and complex, 
and it would be foolish to attribute exclusive or even primar)’ caus- 
ative influence to any single element. IVithin this complex, however, 
the role of the Poverty Ideolog)' itself has generally been granted 
considerably less attention than other influences such as unemploy- 
ment, public welfare policies, police practices, and so on. 

Central tenets of the Opportunity formulation, as shown, ascribe 
the circumstances of low-status populations to deliberate policies of 
e\dl men, represent The Poor as tdctims of injustice and exploitation, 
and suggest that modification of Pot\’er-Structure poliq' requires 
forceful measures. The primaiy’-intended audience of tins message, 
insistently and effectively beamed by the Movement, was the alleged 
authors of these evils, with the intention of inducing them, in part 
through appeals to justice and in part through predictions of vio- 
lence, to change their ways. Partly as a consequence of the Move- 
ment’s image of The Poor as passive and apathetic, the impact of this 
message on the intended beneficiaries of these dianges was not care- 
fully considered. Screened through the perceptions of a subculture 
that is scarcely apathetic vdth respect to matters such as aggression 
and revenge,®^ this message, promulgated by persons of high posi- 
tion and influence, constituted not only a suggestion but an authori- 
zation for violence. The constant and ominous statements that 

"unless is done at once, this summer udll be longer and hotter 

than tire last . . embody the classic characteristics of the self- 
fulfilling prophec)'. 

The contention of the Opportunity theorists that violence can 
be a cost of necessary reform cannot be ignored, and there is little 
doubt that some benefits accrued and will accrue from the rioting. If, 
hovs'ev'er, the evocation of violent action is to be undertaken as an 
instrument of domestic policy by federal or federally supported 
agencies, it should be done only after the most deliberate and careful 
weighing of potential benefits against potential costs. The tragedy of 
the urban riots of the igSos is that they vrere in some measure an 
unintended by-product of policies aimed at quite different objectives, 
involving serious miscalculations as to the impact of certain major 
tactics of the Movement, and virtually no calculations of benefits 
relative to costs. 

303 Walter Miller 


Tlic igGos phase of the national attempt to accommodate contempo- 
rar)’ problems of its low-status populations was marked by curiously 
contradictory orientations tvith respect to a guiding rationale. On the 
one hand, there were assertions that the problem was so clear, the 
objectives so evident, and the need so urgent that any substantial 
allocation of resources to the development of a guiding rationale was 
unwise, unnecessary, or both. Some even converted the lack of an 
e.xplicit rationale into a virtue by claiming tliat systematically devel- 
oped justifications for policy arc largely irrelevant, since programming 
is determined largely by political considerations anyway, and this is 
all to tlie good.®' On the otlier hand, as has been sliown, tlic actual 
conduct of governmental activities was guided by a very specific and 
pervasive ideology. Some accommodated this contradiction by deny- 
ing the existence of any ideology and following it unconsciously, thus 
making it all the more influential. 

This chapter has contended that the failure to devote explicit at- 
tention to the rationale for the federal anti-poverty programs was a 
major reason for their lack of success. The policy implications of this 
contention are clear. It is folly to conduct an enterprise of this mag- 
nitude without devoting the most direct and e.xplicit attention to the 
matter of a guiding rationale. Such a failure not only seriously weak- 
ens the possibility of developing effective measures, but entails grave 
risks of engendering unanticipated consequences quite at variance 
tvith e.xplicit aims. The major proposal of this chapter also follows 
directly: A principal requirement of the next phase of this enterprise 
is that the Ideology of The Poverty Movement of the 1960s be re- 
placed by a comprehensive, systematically developed, deliberately 
formulated conceptual rationale. 

It has not been the purpose of this chapter to develop such a 
rationale. This would be well beyond its scope and in all probability 
trell beyond the capacity of any one person — particularly someone 
accustomed to viewing the problem primarily in terms of any one of 
the several competing positions. Rather its purposes have been to 
shoiv that there is a guiding ideolog)’ behind the “war on poverty,” to 
delineate some of its major characteristics, and to create a sense of 
dissatisfaction with its capacity to serve as a basis of effective policy. 

304 The Elimination of the Lower Class as National Policy 

Two proposals are presented: one for immediate implementation, 
the other as a long-term undertaking. 

The immediate proposal is this: that all federal agencies, and all 
agencies within the orbit of federal influence, be advised forthwith to 
terminate the practice of using, in speech, reports, legislative pro- 
posals, and all other documents, the major terms of the Poverty 
Ideology — particularly such terms as "the poor,” “the power struc- 
ture,” "the ghetto,” "denial of opportunity," "deprivation,” and 
"alienation.” This proposal assumes first that the conceptualization 
underlying these terms provides a major incentive for domestic vio- 
lence in that it justifies a policy of revenge for past and present 
injustices, and second that it promotes a dangerously divisive image 
of the United States as comprising two irreconcilably warring camps: 
the exploited and the exploiters. Even those who remain uncon- 
vinced of the validity of these assumptions might see fit to support 
this measure on the grounds that it can be implemented at little cost 
relative to the benefits that could accrue if the assumptions are valid. 

The long-term proposal is that an appropriate and adequately 
supported agency, in or out of government, deliberately and system- 
atically undertake the development of a conceptual formulation 
that can serve as a sound basis for national policy with respect to low- 
status populations in the United States. As already mentioned, many 
feel that the diversion of national attention and resources to Asian 
warfare has seriously impeded efforts to accommodate pressing do- 
mestic problems; this diversion could be turned to advantage if it 
were conceived as a temporary lull that provides an opportunity to 
prepare the groundwork for a revitalized postwar renewal of these 
efforts. Most important, it affords an opportunity to remedy one of 
the most critical defects of the War on Poverty — the absence of an 
adequate conceptual rationale. 

What should be the characteristics of such a rationale? The first 
requirement is that it be developed with the aim of maximizing 
conceptual adequacy. This means that primacy be granted considera- 
tions such as internal consistency (does one part contradict others?) , 
explanational efficiency (how well does it account for the phenome- 
non at issue?) , and empirical supportability (to what degree does 
available evidence accord with included propositions?) . In recent 
years, a position has gained currency with respect to scholarly formu- 
lations of relevance to public policy that maintains that primacy be 
granted to considerations of implementation potential — ease and 
practicality of conversion into "action” programs, degree of political 

305 Walter Miller 

acceptability, and so on. Some have even gone so far as to propose 
that some of the most fundamental concepts of social science be 
conceived and utilized pTitnarily as instruments of social reform 
rather than as vehicles of understanding.®® 

The present proposal is based on a diametrically opposed 
assumption — that the best e.\planation is that which e.xplains best, 
quite independent of its potential for public acceptance or conver- 
sion into program. Implicit in this assumption is the notion that 
there is a legitimate division of function between the process of for- 
mulation and that of execution and that the maintenance of this 
separation — using appropriate specialists in each sphere and equally 
specialized "bridge” personnel or agencies to maintain communica- 
tion betsveen them — will ultimately produce far more effective pro- 
grams than attempts to optimize conceptual and program considera- 
tions at the same time. Such a division would also reduce the danger 
of assuming that since no abstractly "pure” formulation can ever be 
converted directly into practical programs that one is thereby 
relieved of the responsibility of considering them at all. 

A particular problem in developing an adequate rationale for 
policy relative to low-status populations is that there are now current 
several formulations tliat not only differ substantially but conflict 
directly with respect to basic issues botli of substance and interpreta- 
tion. Two broad alternatives present tliemsclves. The first involves 
the delineation, in as "pure” a foirn as possible, of three, four, five or 
more of the basic diagnostic positions, each developed with an eye to 
maximal explanational adequacy. Each of these could be subjected to 
a systems-analysis type of process wherein the different program im- 
plications of each were developed, "simulations” made of implemen- 
tational procedures, the several alternatives compared, and choices 
made on the basis of cost-benefit types of considerations. Alterna- 
tively, starting from the same initial steps, an attempt could be made 
to derive from the several formulations those elements they share in 
common, thus producing a "consensus” model as a basis for polic)’. 
Either of these procedures, or others of similar character, would sub- 
stitute rational procedures for the hazy and haphazard process by 
which the Poverty Ideolog)' was adopted.®® 

The second requirement of the new rationale is that it be as free 
as possible of unexamined values. It has become fashionable to assert 
that we now realize, in contrast to earlier and more ingenuous schol- 
ars, that a value-free science of human behavior is quite impossible, 
and that one must proceed on the assumption that the impact of 

306 The Elimination of the Lower Class as National Policy 

values on all propositions about human behavior is deep and inevit- 
able. Some have even moved to a position that sees built-in value 
premises as desirable as well as inevitable; from this perspective, the 
term “objective description” comes close to a pejorative. This asser- 
tion represents a rationalization for a failiure to pursue an ideal that 
is extremely difficult and highly uncongenial to many. The choice is 
not between a formulation that is totally value-free and one that is 
totally value-laden, but between one that is lo per cent value-free 
and another that is 20 per cent, ivitli the difference of great impor- 
tance. The formulation or set of formulations that provide the basis 
for national policy cannot be, and should not be, free of values: This 
very proposal for a less-value-laden formulation derives from very 
specific values. What is strongly urged is that it be as free as possible 
from unexamined values. Each formulation, or a possibly synthesized 
formulation, should be subjected to the most searching and exacting 
analysis, with the aim of disclosing the major value premises it in- 
corporates or assumes and making each of these as explicit as possi- 
ble. In this way, it should be possible to avoid much of the conflict 
and confusion attending divergent interpretations of the many 
hidden-value code words of the Poverty Ideology. 

Of particular importance to the enterprise of delineating hidden 
values are those that relate to differing political philosophies. Such 
values command the most powerful and personalized emotional in- 
vestment and, as such, are particularly resistant to deliberate exami- 
nation. Two among the more volatile of the numerous issues in this 
area relate to desired rates and mechanisms of societal change, and 
the allocation of societal resources to the various age, sex, social 
status, racial, and other societal classes. One of the most important of 
the implicit political values of the Poverty Ideology involves a con- 
ception of “compensatory” justice that represents a significant depar- 
ture from the more traditional American concept of “equal” justice. 
Certain of those societal classes that are seen in the past to have been 
less favored than others with respect to political power, prestige, 
wealth, and so on, are henceforth to be granted commensurately 
more of these advantages as a kind of balancing-out mechanism. 
Evaluative conceptions of this kind must be made as explicit as possi- 
ble so that their implications for policy can be considered with the 
greatest of care. 

A third requirement of the new rationale relates to its utility 
from the point of view of popular appeal, political palatability, and 
sales value in the broad sense. Some proponents of the Poverty Ideol- 

301 Walter Miller 

ogy claim to be perfectly 'well aware of its conceptual deficiencies, but 
defend them as necessary in a world in which the possibility of im- 
plementing policy depends in large measure on its capacity to com- 
mand public and legislative support. This argument is applied, for 
example, to the fanciful "warfare” imagery that pervades the Ideol- 
ogy.®^ The argument asserts further that clarity and conceptual 
precision may actually be detrimental in areas in which there are 
marked differences of outlook, in tliat a principal device for securing 
the consensus necessary to policy implementation is a terminology 
sufficiently ambiguous and imprecise to allow persons with divergent 
views to believe they in fact are similar. Moreover, the argument 
maintains, a formulation couched in the dry and intricate terminol- 
ogy of scholarship (for example, "low-status populations” instead of 
"the poor") would not only fail to achieve public understanding but 
would offend public sentiment 

One must grant a measure of validity to these arguments; the 
viability of a democratic government requires effective communica- 
tion with a broad range of public and legislative audiences of widely 
varying levels of sopliistication. However, the argument for the delib- 
erate use of conceptual looseness and merchandising language would 
be much more convincing if one found that the Ideologists customar- 
ily employed at least two modes of discourse: one for public-relations 
purposes and tlie other for serious deliberation. This is not the case. 
Virtually all of the examples of Ideology terminology presented here 
— slogans, code rvords, value-laden concepts — were taken not from 
legislative proposals, public-relations releases, or speeches to lay audi- 
ences, but from scholarly articles intended primarily for professional 
colleagues. The Ideologists have so confused the purposes of sales- 
manship and scholarship that the two have become one. 

The formulation of a new rationale must maintain a strict dis- 
tinction between the requirements of conceptual adequacy and those 
of sales potential. It must focus directly on logical consistency, theo- 
retical adequacy, and explanational efficiency. The execution of this 
task is difficult enough in itself, without assuming at the same time the 
responsibility for ensuring public acceptability. This vital considera- 
tion can be accommodated a/ter the formulation has been developed. 
Surely it is not beyond the capacity of competent thinkers to render a 
difficult and complex set of ideas in simpler form, using perhaps 
three or four levels of simplification to accommodate different audi- 
ences. But such translation can only follow the development of the 
basic formulation; it cannot precede or substitute for it. The conduct 

308 The Elimination of the Lower Class as Natio 7 ial Policy 

of effective policy requires that there exist somewhere, in as sophisti- 
cated a form as the talents of this nation can arrange, a sound and 
well-conceived explanation for the circumstances of low-status popu- 

Those Americans who realize that effective national policy is 
impossible in the absence of a set of abstractly formulated guiding 
principles have been strangely intimidated by vocal activists tvho 
proclaim that the problem is clear, the goals are clear, that tvhat is 
needed is action, and massive action, not more abstract theories. The 
experience of the Poverty Movement of the ig6os should have made 
it abundantly evident that neither problem nor goals are at all clear. 
Effective action requires as clear a conception as possible of what the 
ends of action are to be; this conception, in turn, must be derived 
from an informed and accurate diagnostic statement.®® Action for 
the sake of acting can create an illusion of progress, but the cost of 
nourishing this illusion, the 1960s have shown, can be enormous. 
Statements of objectives such as “the enhancement of opportunity” 
or "escape from the ghetto” actually vitiate the possibility of effective 
action since their ambiguity supports divergent and often conflicting 
interpretations. Efforts to meet the problems of the American loiv- 
skilled laboring class in the absence of a well-conceived conceptual 
rationale are like the actions of men groping blindly in the dark in 
pursuit of unknown and unperceived goals. 


1. Analyses of the relation of these features, along tvith others not cited 
here, to one another and the subculture as a whole are contained in Walter 
Miller, City Gangs, forthcoming. 

2. Chapter 1 by Peter Rossi and Zahava Blum in this volume includes a 
brief citation of six features of a population designated as "the poor” that is freer 
of evaluative connotations than most such citations but still reflects the evaluative 
approach in the use of terms such as “unskilled labor,” "menial jobs,” "instability,” 
“superficial relationships,” “alienation,” and “dogmatism.” 

3. This chapter is a shorter version of a more extended treatment. The 
longer version includes a discussion of a fifth key terra, civil rights, which treats 
the confusion between race and class in Movement formulations. It also contains 
two additional major sections. The first examines some of the epistemological 
bases of the ideology under the topics “cultural absolutism,” "reform activism,” and 
"sentiment as reality”: the second, some of its consequences under the topics "a 
constriction of choice” and “a spur to violence.” (Unpublished manuscript; Cam- 
bridge, Mass.: Harvard-MIT Joint Center for Urban Studies.) 

4. See discussions of the absolute-relative issue in Herman P. Miller, Income 
Distribution in the United States, U.S. Bureau of the Census (Washington: Gov- 
ernment Printing Ofiice, 1947), pp. 29-32, and Martin Rein and S.M. Miller, 
“Poverty, Policy and Purpose: The Dilemmas of Choice” (IVashington: Bureau 
of Social Science Research, 1965) , pp. 5-8. 

309 Walter Miller 

5. This issue is discussed further under the topics "relative deprivation” and 
"sentiment as reality.” A discussion of "status discontent," and the function for 
lower-status persons of expressions of discontent to higher-status persons is in- 
cluded in Walter Miller, "A Comparison of the Status-Discontent and Subcultural 
Generation Approaches to Juvenile Delinquency," Seminar on Delinquency and 
Deviant Behavior (University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration, 
March igGo) . 

6. Office of Economic Opportunity, Dimensions of Poverty in (rev. 

December 1965) , October 1965. The authors of this report arc uncomfortably 
atvarc of the relativistic basis of their formulations, as evidenced by phrases such 
as, "The poor (must choose) among hard alternatives, which needs may be en- 
dured and which must be satisfied.” They also characterize their definitions as 
"arbitrary,” but justify them on the basis of "usefulness” for unspecified purposes. 
The appeal of this kind of numbers game became, under the spell of the Move- 
ment, so Irresistible as to involve even highly reputable and conscientious scholars. 
Charles Willie, for example, based an extensive study on the assumption that 
■Washington families with annual incomes of $;},500 or less were in poverty and 
those with over S4.500 were affluent. Charles 'V. Willie, "The Relative Contribution 
of Family Status and Economic Status to Juvenile Delinquency,” Social Problems, 
XIV, No. s (Winter 19G7) . 

7. See "Origins of the War on Poverty,” in Vol. II, this series: James L. 
Sundquist, ed.. On Fighting Poverty (New 'Vork: Basic Books, 19G9) . 

8. Herman Miller, op. cit., Table 2-3, p. 43. 

9. Herman Miller, op. cit. 

10. Ornati first suspected that figures showing decreases in the proportion of 
the poor were due to applying "poverty-line” definitions from one era to another, 
so he recalculated the data using 1947 "poverty-line” definitions for 1947 and 
igGo definitions for tgGo. On this basis, he still found decreases, and that the 
larger decreases occurred at the lower levels. At the lowest level there was not 
only a decrease in the percentage of the population (15 to 1: per cent) but even 
a decrease in absolute numbers (21 to 20 million), during a period when the 
national population grew by 35 million. Oscar Ornati, "Poverty in America,” in 
L. Ferman et al., eds.. Poverty in America (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan 
Press, igGg) , pp. 25-27. 

11. The primary movement-approved attitude toward the poor is "compas- 

12. An explanation for "retreat” or "conflict” as alternative responses to 
status discontent is contained in one of the major sources of the conceptual con- 
tent of tire ideology (R. A. Cloward and L.E. Ohlin, Delinquency and Oppor- 
tunity; A Theory of Delinquent Gangs [New I’ork: The Free Press of Glencoe, 
igGo], but the movement has not stressed this distinction: see the later discussion 
of “opportunity.” 

13. S.A. Stouffer ct al., eds.. The American Soldier (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton 
University Press, 1949) . 

14. It is not surprising that the "poverty-brings-happiness” position has few 
vocal exponents in contemporary money-minded America; occasionally, however, 
one is reminded that proponents of this position not only exist but also act on 
their principles. Poverty-movement-era newspapers quoted the sentiments of a 
skid-rotv resident who refused $20,000 from the sale of a filling station he had 
abandoned fifteen years before. "'What a time us winos have had the past ten 
years. IVliat a timel No worries, free as a bird. No taxes. No rush to tvork. All I 
want out of life is a loaf of bread, a piece of bologna, a hunk of cheese, good 
health. I’ve got all that here. I’m at peace witli the tvorld.” (Los Angeles Times- 
Washington Post, February 12, igGS.) 

15. One of the few "hard” indicators of subjective discontent is suicide rates; 
the act of committing suicide provides as direct an order of evidence as is available 
of acute unhappiness. The data do not support the contention that lower-status 
persons are more unhappy: to the contrary " (suicide rates) are higher in the 
upper socio-economic classes than in the lower." (Dr. Norman L. Farberow, Los 

311 Walter Miller 

porate consolidation . . . invest some corporate structures with an inordinate de- 
gree of influence in establishing market conditions that are detrimental to the 
reduction of poverty ... in a climate where the prime consideration is profit- 
motivated actions . . .” Ferman et al., op. cit., p. 137. 

27. The process of transmuting the lumpenproletariat from villain to hero 
would lead one to suspect that some ideologists would be making serious efforts 
to unadulterate the still adulterated heroic quality of The Poor by casting as 
virtues even those attributes conventionally regarded as disabilities and by repre- 
senting characteristics difficult to so transmute (for example, crime and sexual 
mores) as inevitable consequences of the evils of others, and thus not blame- 
worthy. Prominent among those engaged in this enterprise are Frank Riessman 
("Lower Income Culture: The Strengths of the Poor,” Journal of Marriage and 
the Family, XXVI, No. 4 [November 1964], 4)7-421) and Robert Coles (Children 
of Crisis: A Study of Coinage and Fear [Boston: Atlantic, Little Brown, 1967]) . 
These authors face contradictions between the requirements of representing the 
poor as sufficiently unflawed as to meet the requirements of the hero role and as 
sufficiently flawed as to serve the help-is-urgently-needed message of the Movement. 

28. U.S. Department of Labor, The Negro Family: The Case for National 
Action, March 1965. 

29. The nature of these events, along with a sophisticated analysis of their 
bases and consequences, is presented in a well-organized and balanced report by 
Lee Rainwater and W. Yancey, The Moynihan Report and the Politics of Contro- 
versy (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1967) . 

30. Some suggestion of the anger aioused by the report is conveyed by 
published comments included in Rainwater and Yancey, ibid. For example, 
"Enormous conclusions based on tiny scraps of evidence . . . irresponsible non- 
sense . . . narrow and wholly inadequate framework . . . painful as well as 
fallacious . . . damnable inaccurate simplicity. As the murderer pleads guilty to 
manslaughter . . . liberal America is pleading guilty to savagery and oppression 
... to escape trial for the crimes of today.” William Ryan, p. 461 passim, "I’m 
angry . . . really angry ... we arc sick unto death of being analyzed, mes- 
merized, bought, sold, and slobbered over while ... the ingredients of our 
oppression go unattended . . . The fatal eiror of American society ... to blame 
the roots of poverty and violence upon Negroes themselves ... is here again, in 
its most vicious form . . . insulting Uie intelligence of black men and women 
everywhere . . . the most seiious threat to the ultimate freedom of American 
Negroes to appear in print in recent memory.” James Farmer, p. 409 passim, 
". . . the Moynihan thesis is a one-sided presentation ... to emphasize one- 
sidedly the limiting aspects and presumed pathology ... is to do the Negro a 
deep injustice ... It is most inappropriate to attempt to involve people in 
change by emphasizing some alleged weaknesses in their make-up . . .” Frank 
Riessman, p. 474 passim. 

31. Cloward and Ohlin, op. cit., pp. 2-5, 69. Subsequent work by Ohlin, as 
yet unpublished, addresses this issue directly. His definitions, involving concepts 
such as "the structure of rules and norm” and "gatekeepers” to various systems, 
lean heavily on the spatial and solid-structure imagery criticized in later sections. 
Lloyd Ohlin, personal communication. 

32. Ibid., pp. 104, 162. 

33. Ibid., p. 96. 

34. See Mobilization for Youth, Inc. A Proposal for the Prevention and 
Control of Delinquency by Expanding Opportunities, New York, December 9, 
1961, p. 49. 

35. See for example, ibid., p. 43, sections entitled "Expanding Opportunities 
for Conformity” and "Barriers to Opportunity." 

36. A classic case of the disastrous consequences of the adoption of a policy 
objective phrased so ambiguously that it permits a wide range of divergent in- 
terpretations is presented in Daniel P. Moynihan, "Maximum Feasible Misunder- 
standing: Community Action in the War on Poverty,” Sanford Lecture on Local 
Government, May 1967. 

312 The Elimination of the Lower Class as National Policy 

37. Fennan et al., op. cit., p. xv. 

38. Raymond J. Murphy and J. Watson, The Structure of Discontent, UCLA 
Institute of Government and Public Affairs, June 1967. 

39. George Brager, “Organizing the Unaffiliated in a Low-Income Area,” 
in Fennan et al., op. cit., p. 393. James Sundquist, "The Structure of a Sub- 
culture,” in volume 2 in this series is also a step in this direction. 

40. The concept "ghetto" probably did more to shape the policies of the move- 
ment during later periods than the concept "poverty.” Like "opportunity," 
"ghetto," in most movement usages, is a primitive or undefined concept. One of 
the few published attempts at a definition appears as a footnote in President 
Johnson’s Riot Commission Report. This definition is confusing and imprecise; 
it is a direct product of the ideology ("poverty," "social disorganization”) , and its 
key phrase “involuntary segregation” is highly controversial, with little evidence 
to support the "involuntary" assumption. Report of the National Advisory Com- 
mission on Civil Disorders (New York; Bantam, 1968), p. is. 

41. Herbert Cans, "Culture and Class in tlie Study of Poverty,” this volume, 
Ch. 8. 

42. See, for example, Leon Keyserling, "Planning a Long-Range Balanced 
Effort,” in Fennan et al., op. cit., p. 435. Other examples of this usage are "the 
redistribution of privilege" (Cans, "Culture and Class in the Study of Poverty,” 
op. cit.) and "the differential distribution of positive feelings about oneself,” 
which nicely combines the solid-structure imagery and the imputation of sub- 
jective states (S. M. Miller et al. "Poverty, Inequality and Conflict,” The Annals 
of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, CCCLXXIII (September 
1967) . P- 50- 

43. See Clotvard, quotation from "On the Concept of Illegitimate Means,” 
op. cit. 

44. For slum heterogeneity see John R. Seeley, "The Slum: Its Nature, Use, 
and Users,” Journal of the American Institute of Planners, XXV, No. 1 (February 
1959) , 7-14. One among several good discussions of "centripetal” forces attracting 
people to slums is contained in David Caplowitz, "The Merchant and the Low 
Income Consumer,” in Fennan et al., op. cit., p. 197, an excellent analysis of 
horv intricately and directly tlie commercial organs of low-status communities 
are geared to the credit status of local consumers. 

45. Bayard Rustin, "IVhy Don’t Negroes . . .” in Rainwater, op. cit., p. 419. 

46. Evidence of this thesis might be found in the fact that the present essay 
ascribes blame for ill-advised policy to those who persist in using the "blame” 

47. Rustin, op. cit., p. 419. 

48. Martin Luther King, "A Bill of Rights for the Disadvantaged,” The New 
York Times, November 12, 1967. 

49. James Farmer, "The Controversial Mo)’nihan Report,” in Raimvater, op. 
cit., p. 409. 

50. Ryan, op. cit., pp. 4C3, 4C4. (See note 30 above.) 

51. Herbert Cans, "’The Negro Family: Reflections on the Moynihan Report,” 
in Rainwater, op. cit., p. 467. 

52. Herbert Cans, "Poverty and Culture: Some Basic Questions about Methods 
of Studying Life Styles of the Poor,” paper to International Seminar on Poverty, 
April 1967 (unpublished) , 

53. Oscar Lewis, La Vida (Netv York: Random House, 1965) , p. xlv. 

54. Warren C. Haggstrom, "The Power of the Poor,” in Ferman et al., op. cit., 

P- 315- . . , ,, 

55. One preliminary piece of this task, using a primarily historical approacti 
and analyzing the persistence of a lorver-dass community in terms of relationships 
among technology, labor supply, market conditions, immigration and emigration, 
residence patterns, and similar factors, is presented in IValter Miller, “The Evolu- 
tion of an Urban Loiver Class Community,” City Gangs, op. cit., Ch. 2. This 
chapter includes a discussion of the "blame” frame of reference that -forms the 
basis of parts of the present chapter. It also forms one basis of the thoughtful 

313 Walter Miller 

essay by Lee Rain^vatcr on diflcrcnt modes of conceptualizing low-status popula- 
tions ("Neutralizing tlie Disinherited,” op. cil.) . 

56. Robert A. Le\ine, "Esalualing tlic War on Poverty,” in Vol. II, this series: 
James L. Sundquist, ed.. On Fighting Poverty (New York: Basic Books, 1969) , 
Ch. 9. 

The bulk of this conscientious overview is devoted to discussions of why par- 
ticular programs are difficult or impossible to evaluate. Levine distinguishes four 
categories of program — Manpower, Individual Improvement, Community Better- 
ment, and Income Maintenance. The second and third are said to be either not 
amenable to evaluation or to show highly ambiguous results. Income Maintenance 
programs are not supported by Office of Economic Opportunity (OEO) funds. 
This leaves Manpower programs. For only one of these. Job Corps, is careful 
evaluation reported; olliers, sudi as the Neighborhood Youth Corps, IVork Ex- 
perience Program, and Concentrated Employment Program, are characterized 
either as difficult to evaluate or as having a "low success rate and other flaws.” 
IVith tlie Job Corps thus bearing lire major burden for the research-evaluated 
success or failure of the War on Poverty, through the process of elimination, the 
"hardest" evidence of success presented is a modest cost-benefit ratio of 1.2. The 
"benefit" calculations, moreover, are not based on any direct measurement of work 
experience but on theoretical speculations derived from scores on "educational” 
tests. Thus, even the "hardest" evidence of the eflccts of one of the very few 
programs seen as susceptible to evaluation is based on theoretical speculations 
derived from a "proxy" measure. Measures based on rather less abstract indicators, 
such as crime and welfare rates, show no impact of poverty programs. A major 
trend with respect to a measure of central importance, income levels, shows a 
decrease from 3}.i (1964) to 29.7 (1966) million in the number of persons below 
one of the several (here unspecified) "poverty lines.” This trend cannot be at- 
tributed to the IVar on Poverty, since the research fails to handle the critical 
problem of separating the influence of poverty programs from tire weighty influ- 
ence of many otlier national-level factors sudi as wage levels and production- 
related employment rates. 

57. The phenomenon of urban violence is highly complex. An adequate 
analysis of the urban nots of the tgOos would require the delineation of a fairly 
large number of contributing influences (police behavior, lower-class male- 
adolescent subculture, intensity and impact of hostility between whites and blacks, 
incidence and causes of "normal" volume of violent and appropriative crimes 
among low-status populations, etc.) , categorizing these as more "proximate" and 
more "generic," and assigning different weights to the range of delineated vari- 
ables. This task is obviously beyond the scope of tliis essay, but the issue is 
relevant here because it reveals with great clarity the powerful influence of the 
Ideology on contemporary explanations. One excellent example is found in the 
report of President Johnson's Riot Commission {Report of the National Com- 
mission of Civil Disorders, op. cit., pp. 203-281). This treatment is of very little 
value as an explanation, but of great value as an illustration of the capacity of 
the Ideology to impede tlie development of adequate explanations. In particular, 
this treatment, in common with other Ideology-influenced explanations, completely 
ignores tlie causative role of the Movement itself. The process whereby the Move- 
ment and its activities provide one major incentive for the rioting is discussed 
under the heading "A Spur to Violence” in the c.xpanded version of this chapter. 
Sound conclusions as to the contribution of the movement to the rioting would 
require careful measures of the amount and intensity of violence in the several 
cities and of Poverty-Movement activity, and measures of association between the 

58. The role of the President's Committee on Juvenile Delinquency and 
Youth Crime (PCJD) as a major predecessor of the poverty programs, and the 
OEO in particular, has received very little detailed attention. This lack is made 
up in part by several of the chapters in Vol. II of this work tliat cite the PCJD. 
stressing in general continuities between the two enterprises. (See in particular 
papers by Sundquist, Yarmolinsky, and Kravitz) . Less attention is paid the 

514 The Elimination of the Lower Class as National Policy 

manner in which the PCJD served the authors of the Poverty programs as an 
object lesson in what not to do. The PCJD was conceived as a '‘demonstration’' 
svith the testing of particular theories of delinquenq'-causation through action 
programs as a major objective. In praaice, since Lloyd Ohlin sras placing an 
important role at the level of federal granting agencies, virtually all pio'Tams 
were based on Clorvard and Ohlin’s Opportunity Theory'. The process of articu- 
lating the basic tenets of the theory, developing relevant action programs, and 
arranging their implementation and evaluation was very difficult and quite time- 
consuming when measured on a political-administration-tenure time scale. These 
features of the enterprise aroused the ire of influential elected officials for tvhom 
“action programs” can be a political asset, and "testing the validity of causational 
theories” a matter of indifference, if not a liability. The politically-sophistiated 
autliors of the poverty programs considered PCJD personnel as politically naive 
and were determined to avoid such difficulties. They therefore plunged directly 
into action programs rvith only the briefest consideration of the theoretical reasons 
for undertaking them. Paradoxically, however, having rejected the political style 
of the PCJD, they embraced uncritically and with enthusiasm the identical 
theoretical rationale the PCJD had failed to test. The evidence that was available 
at the time (and which rvas strengthened by later evidence) indicated tliat the 
opportunity theory was proving quite inadequate as a basis for programs aimed 
at the relatively limited problem of juvenile delinquency; the experience of the 
PCJD provided no basis whatever for supposing it tvould prove any more clfcctive 
as the basic rationale for a far more comprehensive undertaking — the wholesale 
alteration of the over-all life style of low-status populations. 

59. An acute analysis of the contradictory policy directives inherent in the 
poverty ideology is contained in Rein and Miller, "Poverty, Policy and Purpose, 
op. cit. 

60. Adam Yarmolinsky, "The Beginnings of OEO," in Vol. II, this scries: 
James L. Sundquist, ed.. On Fighting Poverty (Netv York: Basic Books, 1969), 
PP- 34 - 5 1 - 

6t. See John R. Seeley, "The Problem of Social Problems,” in John R. Seeley, 
ed.. The Americanization of the Unconscious (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1967), 
pp. 142-148. 

62. This is Lee Rainivater’s phrasing. Lee Rainwater, "The Problem of Lmver 
Class Culture” (pp. cit.) prepared for Sociolog^y Department Colloquium, Univer- 
sity of Wisconsin, September 23, 1966. 

63. See IValter Miller, "Lower Class Culture as a Generating Milieu of Gang 
Delinquency,” Journal of Social Issues, XIV, No. 3 (1958) ; Walter Miller, H. 
Geertz, and H. Gutter, "Aggression in a Boys’ Street Comer Gang,” Psychiatry, 
XXV, No. 3 (August 1962) ; Walter Miller, "Violent Grimes in City Gangs,” The 
Annals of the Atnerican Academy of Political and Social Science, CCCLXIV 
(March 1966) . 

64. See, for example, Levine, op. cit. 

65. See, for example, the discussion in Gans, op. cit. and this volume, Ch. 8. 

66. These ideas as to procedure are intended as broad and general suggestions 
rather than specific proposals; the proposed course of action involves difficult 
problems on both theoretical and practical levels. In particular, the citation of 
"cost-benefit-type” analyses refers to the spirit rather than the letter of the 
method; the limitations of this currently fashionable procedure, particularly in 
areas tvhere values are heavily and inevitably involved, are pointed up in an 
excellent analysis by Rein and Miller, "Poverty, Policy and Purpose,” op. cit. 
Also unattended here are practical implementational matters such as the organiza- 
tion, a.uspices, and financing of such enterprises. Some of these are discussed 
briefly in a short memorandum: Walter Miller, "Proposal for the Establishment 
of an Office of Conceptual Formation” (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard-MIT, Joint 
Center for Urban Studies, January 1968) . 

67. Space limitations preclude a fuller treatment of the "warfare” imagery 
which is carried to surprising lengths in some writings. Sundquist, for example, 
in a single essay (whiA contains the wise statement that "words and concepts 

515 Walter Miller 

determine programs") , uses the terms "declare tvar,” "unconditional war," 
"mobilizing.” "under the banner," "massive coordinated attack," "strategy,” "as- 
sault," "combating,” "skirmishing." "weapons,” "arsenal.” (James Sundquist, 
"Origins of tlie AVar on Poverty,” op. cit.) That mature scholars choose in all 
seriousness to invest in full military trappings an enterprise centering on efforts 
to alter the life conditions of low-status populations attests once more to the 
enormous influence of public-relations thinking. It also reflects the great prestige, 
during this period, of the military, particularly of the Defense Department and 
certain of its analytic techniques (for example, the Program Planning and 
Budgeting System) , and tlic desire to absorb some of this prestige through the 
fantasy of a glamorous military opeiation. 

68. A thoughtful analysis of the relation between differing diagnostic formula- 
tions and differing policy formulations is contained in M. Rein, "Social Science 
and the Eliminaton of Poverty,” Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 
XXXIII (May igGy) , 1.16-163. 

chapter 11 

^ An Economic Definition of Poverty 



The discussions of the poverty seminar, •tvhatever else they did or did 
not achieve, accomplished one thing most conspicuously. They high- 
lighted ttvo radically different approaches to the definition of "pov- 
erty”: on die one hand, the "narrow economic” definition, and on 
the other, the "culture of poverty.” 

The economic concept is defined in terms of die external circum- 
stances that condition a person’s behavior, especially the behavior he 
displays in economic transactions: buying consumption items, selling 
productive services, securing professional advice, etc. The cultural 
concept focuses on die internal attitudes and behavior patterns that a 
person brings to any particular set of circumstances. The one locates 
poverty in the person’s condition; the other finds it in the person’s 

A program aimed at eliminating economic poverty will measure 
its success by the increase in command over goods and sen’ices that is 
induced by the program. A program aimed at eliminating the culture 
of poverty will measure its success by changes in die complex of 
attitudes and behavior patterns characteristic of that culture. Any 
program ivill, in general, influence both economic poverty and the 
culture of poverty, but not in equal proportions or with equal direct- 

Because the external condidons, given a sufficiently long expo- 
sure, can affect the patterns of behavior we term "culture,” and, m 
turn, "culture” can and does influence the nature of the external 

317 Harold Watts 

world a person faces, it is not usually possible to attribute exclusive 
effects on either “economic" poverty or "cultural” poverty to any 
particular policy or program. It can be argued, however, that much 
of the current and widespread dissatisfaction with anti-poverty poli- 
cies is due to a failure to make an explicit choice of a restrictive 
definition of poverty. In a situation in which each critic can choose 
from a wide range of poverties — and feels no need to restrict his 
choice to any single one — it is no hard task to find all policies wide of 
some target. 

A clear notion of what one is trying to do has always been of 
importance in the formulation of policies. The advantage of choosing 
the most efficient means of attaining a specific goal is also no new 
discovery. Hotvever, the recent adoption throughout the executive 
branch of the Federal Government of PPBS (Planning, Program- 
ming, Budgeting Systems) does indicate a change in the direction of 
more explicit and coordinated application of these principles. By 
requiring agencies to state their objectives and to establish priorities 
among their program proposals according to the degree that the pro- 
grams serve those objectives, PPBS enforces a tighter correspondence 
between objectives and policy decisions. 

In the language of the model of economic choice, we may take 
alternative programs (or increments to them) as the set of objects of 
choice. PPBS asks an agency such as OEO to consider all possible 
combinations of programs and to establish a preference ordering 
among them based on the agency’s interpretation of its mission or 
goal. A determinative choice, of course, requires the addition of 
constraints — financial, political, or what have you — but these con- 
straints are not finally decided at the agency level. When the choices 
are made by the Bureau of the Budget and ultimately the Congress, 
objectives of other agencies must be considered and balanced with 
the anti-poverty objective. 

Hence, it can be seen that the choice of a definition of that 
poverty that we want to eliminate must be made. And that the choice 
affects not only the setting of priorities among anti-poverty programs, 
but also the higher level assessment of the relative importance of 
getting rid of poverty vis-k-vis other objectives of society. 

If the problem of poverty is worthy of a distinct name (even of a 
special agency) , then it certainly should be possible to distinguish 
poverty from the entire collection of social problems. The task of 
evaluating and ranking programs for their effect on poverty is not 
responsibly discharged by usurping the Presidential-level problem of 

318 An Economic Definition of Poverty 

balancing the claims of all social objectives. We must distinguish 
between the Great Society and the Poverty-less Society. The more is 
subsumed under the definition of "poverty,” the more the Poverty- 
less Society simply becomes the Great Society. Every step we take 
totvard an equation of the two goals takes us further toward elimina- 
tion of the need for, and in fact the possibility of, a separate consid- 
eration of poverty as a distinct problem. 

It is possible to pay exclusive attention to one or another anti- 
poverty objective. Moreover, once such a commitment is made, all 
extraneous consequences must be excluded in order to secure the 
maximum impact from a given anti-poverty budget. A familiar 
theorem in economics rules out the possibility of maximizing more 
than one objective at the same time. If the activities that promote 
each objective use some of the same scarce resources, and if the objec- 
tives are truly different, then one must be prepared to accept a 
reduced level of success for one objective in exchange for the other; it 
is impossible to get more of both. Two possible resolutions are: (i) to 
ignore one of the objectives, or ( 2 ) to reformulate the problem by 
defining a new objective that is an explicit combination of the two 
objectives, that is, to admit that the original definition of the poverty 
problem was incorrect. 

The concept of poverty developed belotv is restrictive, both in 
the sense that any specific concept must be restrictive and in the sense 
that it excludes from consideration sociological, political, psychologi- 
cal, and physical ills that are weakly or strongly associated ^vith pov- 
erty. Tliis does not indicate a presumption tliat these goals are 
unimportant. What it does indicate is tlie presumption that poverty 
is a specific ill in itself; that poor people, while tliey share many other 
problems with the nonpoor, are unique in having a relative shortage 
of goods and services at their disposal; and that, finally, poverty in 
the more restricted sense can be eliminated, is rvortli eliminating, 
both for its inherent injustice and for its fallout effects on related 
problems, and tvdll be eliminated more promptly by policies that are 
aimed at a compact, ratijev than a diffuse, target. 


The concept developed takes from the basic model of economic 
choice the idea of separating preferences from constraints. Assoaat- 

319 Harold Watts 

ing poverty with extremely limiting constraints, the definition incor- 
porates a broader view of the economic constraint derived from 
Milton Friedman’s theory of permanent income.^ Consideration also 
is given to the problem of weighting and aggregating varying degrees 
of poverty and to the notion of a social-welfare function. 

A very simple analytic tool, the neoclassical model of economic 
choice, can provide a framework for analyzing the behavior of 
decision-making economic units. Its flexibility permits application to 
consuming units or producing units of varying levels of complexity. 
The consuming units -with which we are immediately concerned are 
the individual and the family. 

Stated most simply, the model postulates that there is a set of 
objects of choice that the decision-maker ranks according to his par- 
ticular, and perhaps peculiar, preferences. Confronted with one or 
more considerations that limit his choice to a sub-set of these objects, 
the decision-maker will, according to the model, choose the highest 
ranking alternative available in that sub-set. For example, a family 
may prefer a suburban bungalow to a high-rise apartment, which in 
turn is favored over a walk-up flat, and all three are regarded as 
better than remaining in (or returning to) a rural tar-paper shack. If 
it is limited by income or discrimination to either the flat or the 
shack, however, it will choose the former. This is, loosely speaking, 
the extent of the rationality assumption that is so often used as a club 
with which to beat economists. It is possible, of course, to make more 
restrictive assumptions and to get more substantial derivative propo- 
sitions from the theory. But these are not necessary in general, nor 
are they needed for the development of the concept that follows. 

In more specific terms, consider the set of choice objects to be 
possible rates of consumption of uvo categories of consumer goods 
and services: necessities and luxuries. (^Ve may indulge in the ab- 
straction that there are only two goods, measured in some convenient 
scale, and each good is perfectly divisible, so that amounts can be 
varied in a continuous manner.) The decision-making unit, which we 
may take to be an individual or a family, has a system of preferences 
among these objects that may be represented by an “indifference 
map” imposed on a two-dimensional space as in Figure ii-i. Each 
point in the positive quadrant corresponds to a unique combination 
of luxury and necessity consumption. The point A in Figure i corre- 
sponds to consumption of X units of necessities and Y units of lux- 
uries per month. Each curved line consists of points that are consid- 
ered equally good by the family. (There is such a line through every 

320 An Economic Definition of Poverty 

point — only a few representative ones are drawn.) Points to the 
northeast of any one curve are all preferred over points on or to the 
southwest of the same curve. In this manner, a system of indifference 
curves can describe completely a particular ranking; any pair of con- 
sumption levels or two-dimensional points on the diagram can be 
evaluated as better, worse, or equally good, compared to any other 


Figure ii-i 

This system of preferences is regarded as a characteristic of a 
particular individual and may be quite different for some other indi- 
vidual. The preference ordering represents the tastes, values, and 
knowledge possessed by the individual; they will reflect his culture. 
As such, tire preferences are not immutable, but, like culture, they 
are treated as stable enough to make worthwhile the abstraction that 
they remain constant for analytic purposes. 

Given these preferences, now consider rvhich combinations are 
available to the decision-maker. Assume that he has a fixed income 
flow to be spent and can purchase any amount of eaclr good at prices 
that do not depend on the size of his purchase. We may now draw a 
straight line, PP', that divides the space into a portion that he can 
afford and one that he cannot, as shown in Figure 11-2. The point P 

Figure 11-2 

321 Harold Watts 

on the vertical axis is simply the number of luxury units that could 
be bought if the entire income were spent on luxuries; P' is similarly 
derived from income and the price per unit of necessities. The model 
is now complete and indicates that a family with preferences as 
shown, faced with a budget limit and prices as drawn, would choose 
to consume necessities at rate A and luxuries at rate B. 

The external and relatively objective factors that determine the 
available alternatives are usually regarded as subject to variation. 
For example, an increase in income would shift the constraint out- 
ward in a parallel manner and, as drawn, would lead to increased 
purchases of both commodities. A change in relative prices will rotate 
the constraint and thus alter the level of purchases. Usually an in- 
crease in price of one good, other things remaining constant, •will 
result in a reduction of consumption of that good and an increase in 
the consiunption of the other. 


The above excursion into basic economic theory was made to lay a 
foundation for the concept of poverty. The distinction made between 
preferences and constraints provides a useful basis for limiting the 
notion of poverty to the relatively objective constraint side of the 
problem. Poverty is, in this view, a property of the individual’s situa- 
tion, rather than a characteristic of tlie individual or of his pattern of 
behavior. Of course, overt behavior or ex post facto choices will re- 
flect both preferences and constraints (both values or culture and 
situation) , but poverty is associated solely with severe constriction of 
the choice set. Similarly, affluence corresponds to a much larger area 
of attainable alternatives. Indeed, poverty and affluence are, in this 
view, the names we give to the two ends of a scale measuring level of 
generalized command over real goods and ser\’ices. Current income is 
an important part of this command over goods and services, but it is 
not, as will be argued belo%v, the sole determinant. 

There are two features of a definition based on the choice con- 
straint that recommends it. First, it avoids imposing a norm on the 
tastes and values held by individual decision-makers. Instead of argu- 
ing that anyone who consumes less than X units of food or Y units of 
housing is poor, it -^vould argue that anyone who has sufficient com- 
mand over goods and services to achieve X and Y simultaneously 

322 An Economic Definition of Poverty 

must be at least as well off if he actually chooses some other combina- 

It is, of com'se, a value judgment on the part of economists that 
the diversity of tastes and values reflected in different allocations of 
consumption at the same level of general command ought to be 
respected. Accordingly, that a particular family allocates a given 
budget in a way contrary to a typically middle-class outsider’s notion 
of how he would do it or at variance ivith some statistical average of 
families at a comparable budget level should not be taken as evi- 
dence tliat the family is -worse off or poorer. 

The second salutary feature of this definition pertains to the 
elimination of troublesome questions about the level of satisfaction 
or happiness acliieved by particular families from a given budget. 
The theory of choice requires only a ranking of alternatives; it does 
not require any measure of the magnitude or intensity of the distinc- 
tions made in rank, nor does it require any absolute measure of the 
pleasure derived from a particular allocation. Neither economics nor, 
as far as I kno^v, social science in general can contrive a measure of 
satisfaction that -would make one comfortable about asserting that 
Mr. A, tvith very aristocratic tastes and only fwo Picassos, does not 
feel more deprivation from -tvant of a third tlian does Mr. B, -tvho 
hasn’t been able to buy shoes for the last three years. Lacking such a 
measure and possessing egalitarian tendencies, one is attracted to a 
definition of poverty that focuses on the means for pursuit of happi- 
ness rather tlaan on happiness itselL 


The prevailing practice of measuring the extent of poverty according 
to levels of money income can be construed as a clioice of a constraint- 
oriented poverty concept, as I’ecommended above, combined with a 
choice of current annual money income as tlie measure of command 
over goods and services. Probably everyone remotely connected with 
developing and -jvorking -with these statistics has acknowledged tlie 
crudity of this measure. But if the argument in favor of a constraint- 
oriented measure is accepted, then it follorvs that improvement lies in 
adopting a more comprehensive measure of tlie constraint on house- 
hold choice. The income measure is crude because of its incomplete 
coverage of sources of command over goods and services and its short 

323 Harold Watts 

time horizon — not because it is narrowly economic, lacking in hu- 
manity, or oblivious to subjective subtleties. The following para- 
graphs indicate how the measure can and should be broadened both 
on conceptual and empirical levels of analysis. 

The economic literature contains a concept of income that comes 
very close to meeting the present need for a comprehensive measure 
of command over goods and services. Milton Friedman’s permanent 
income concept has proved useful both in clarifying theoretical anal- 
ysis of household behavior and in improving our ability to predict 
behavior. The value of the largest sustainable level of consumption is 
one, slightly circular, way of describing Friedman’s more comprehen- 
sive concept. More precisely, it is the sum of income flows from prop- 
erty, from sale of labor services, and from transfers (unilateral 
"gifts”) , from other persons, or from governmental units, whether 
received in money or in “real” form. These flows are evaluated at the 
normal rate they can be expected to maintain over the long run 
instead of at the current level. The reason for this is that current 
income may be higher or lower than normal because of temporary 
good fortune or misfortune. Friedman terms these deviations "transi- 
tory income,” which, together with “permanent income,” divides 
current income receipts into two additive components. 

Expansion of the time horizon for purposes of measuring income 
broadens the concept substantially. As developed by Friedman, there 
are two bases for income via the market: human wealth and non- 
human wealth. The latter is relatively familiar owing to its similar- 
ity to wealth in common usage: real and financial property. Money 
income from this source is usually counted in current measures, al- 
though year-to-year variation in profits or dividends may exaggerate 
the dispersion of the income distribution. However, it is not common 
to consider the wealth itself, as distinct from the income it generates, 
as part of a household’s command over goods and services. But, con- 
sidering that households do accumulate wealth with the intent of de- 
cumulating it during retirement (or passing it on to succeeding gen- 
erations) , it would seem appropriate to convert net wealth (assets 
minus liabilities) into equivalent life annuities for purposes of mea- 
suring the capacity to sustain a level of consumption. This modifica- 
tion would primarily affect the aged or near-aged family units. 

An important example arises from the directly consumed services 
of owner-occupied housing. The value of such services is, concep- 
tually speaking, a form of income and is no less worthy of inclusion 
because the income does not accrue in money. The income will be 

324 An Economic Definition of Poverty 

appropriately accounted for if owner-occupied housing is included 
among the assets used in the net-wealth calculation discussed above. 
It is specifically singled out here because of the ubiquitousness of 
home ownership and because it is easily overlooked. 

The notion of human wealth is a major improvement over cur- 
rent earnings as a measure of command over goods and services. The 
effective capacity to earn money income by selling labor services in 
the market or to produce directly consumed services in the home is 
the second component of permanent income. As compared with cur- 
rent earnings, it both takes into account a longer period of time and 
incorporates real income as well as money income. The longer period 
tends to substitute aserage rates of unemployment for intermittent 
full and zero levels of employment. It also offsets the quite low levels 
of current income usually enjoyed by those who are adding to their 
stock of capital by education or training. 

In terms of tliis broader concept, an unemployed dishwasher 
■would be counted as poorer than an unemployed plumber, even 
tlrough both had the same zero level of current earnings. A Negro 
assembly-line ■worker who currently earns tlic same wage as the white 
worker at his side tvould be credited with a smaller long-run com- 
mand over goods and services by being subject to a higher risk of 
future unemployment. 

Another feature of the generalized measure of human wealth is 
its ability to include the home-produced and home-consumed services 
of the homemaker and other adult family members. The conven- 
tions of income ta.xatlon and national-income accounts do not give 
explicit recognition to this source of income. The anomaly has been 
pointed out with respect to the national-income accounts, but in the 
absence of any threat of drastic changes in human nesting patterns, it 
has not been regarded as an important weakness. When making in- 
terfamily comparisons, however, particularly at income levels in 
which nesting patterns frequently diverge from the ideal nudear 
family, it is quite indefensible to ignore the direct contributions of 
adult family members to the scrv’ices, or even goods, available to the 

Finally, there are transfer payments among persons. These may 
be entirely voluntary, as within a family; or be covered by contract, 
as in the case of alimony; or arise out of public programs, such as 
social security. Persons are able to obtain command over goods and 
services in such ways without a current quid pro quo. Insofar as these 
claims are secure, either through law or through convention, there is 

325 Harold Watts 

no reason to treat them as different from income that accrues to 
human or nonhuman wealth. 

There are, of course, substantial problems involved in measuring 
"permanent income.” But if it is possible to obtain some general 
agreement on the suitability of the concept for analysis of poverty, 
there are many possibilities for improving on the measures now in 
use. Furthermore, if, as I believe, the generalized concept is relatively 
free of the many weaknesses criticized in the current money-income 
concept, then its adoption may make it possible for a wider range 
of analysts to work within a common conceptual framework. 


The preceding discussion has argued that a measure of poverty 
should be related to the individual’s or family’s "permanent” level of 
command over goods and services. There remains the problem of 
specifying standards of comparison that will permit evaluation of 
commensurate degrees of poverty for families of different size or com- 
position, in different places, and at different times. The "poverty 
lines” now in use are intended to provide such standards in terms of 
annual money income. The Orshansky 2 thresholds vary according to 
family size, they have been adjusted for changes in the consumer 
price index for intertemporal comparisons, and they allow for differ- 
ences between farm and nonfarm residence. 

In the simplest terms, the poverty lines represent the level of 
income that divides the families of a particular size, place, and time 
into the poor and the nonpoor. Hence the set of poverty lines are 
intended to designate equivalent levels of deprivation. Similar 
thresholds could be obtained for the more comprehensive constraint 
measures presented above that could be used to divide the popula- 
tion into poor and nonpoor. 

However, it has been argued above that poverty is not really a 
discrete condition. One does not immediately acquire or shed the 
aillictions we associate with the notion of poverty by crossing any 
particular income line. The constriction of choice becomes progres- 
sively more damaging in a continuous manner. As a first step, it 
would seem appropriate to maintain the graduation provided by a 
continuum, but to seek a scale along which differently situated fami- 
lies can be compared. For this purpose, a ratio of the measure of 
permanent income to the poverty threshold might be taken as a first 

326 An Economic Definition of Poverty 

npproNimaiioii. SyinI)olifaIly, IclY (N,L,i) denote the poverty thresh- 
old for a family of .m/c N, in place L, at time 1 . Define a family’s 
"welfare ratio" w as the ratio of its j)crmanent income, Y, to the 
appropriate poveity tlncsliold, that is, 

sv “ V/Y (N',L,l) . 

This .scale eNtrnds the notion of ((piivalcnfc at the poverty thresh- 
olds to ecpiivalentc at any j)»oj)ortional distance from the poverty 
thicsholds, foi cNamplr, jr, pcj <cnt below. 

'I’his scclfaie taiio will, of conise, pcimit the same bifurcation 
into poor and nonpooi, the latter hasitt;; tatios f^rcatcr than one and 
the foimri Ic-s than one. lUtt it aho preset ves the notion that those 
who ate r, p- i eent ahosc the thicshold ate not much better off than 
those who ate r, pn rent hrh>w. 'Mir welfare ratio also leads into 
fonsidir.ttir)n of mote Miphistirairri ssays of n;;!pc{;niing the detailed 
data into ttne-dimcnsioiial mr.isuics of the nation's poverty problem. 

'I'hc "nose ronnt" in poserty is one snrh measure that has little 
hill it.s simplitiis to jctojnmrnd it. The "dollar gnp," or the total 
amount by sshidi the incomes of the poor fall short of the poverty 
lines, is a somewhat bettrt mrasntc because it counts a family that is 
at half the poveiis line as fisc times as severe a problem as one that is 
at 90 j)cr cent of the same line. A further improvement would recog- 
nize that jtrneity becomes more tscic at an increasing rate as succes- 
sive dcciements of income ate (onsidcred; in other words, that pov- 
erty is iccluced mote by adding to a famih’s command over 

goods and set vices if tb.e family is at 50 per cent of the poverty line 
than if it is at 73 per cent. 

rtcLiu: 11-3 

A simple and mathcmatitally ttactable measure that has this 
property would be the logaiithm of the welfare index. It is not, by 
any means, the only such scale, but it offers a definite improvement 

321 Harold Watts 

over the current practice. The logarithmic function, ^ as shot\-n in 
Figure 11 - 3 , takes on negative values for fractional wlfare ratios 
(incomes below poverty) and positive values for ratios greater than 
one. For purposes of more aggregative measures of poverty, it would 
be appropriate to sum the logarithms of welfare ratios, weighted by 
family size, over some part or all of the lower half of the distribution 
of families, that is. 


where L is the set of subscripts belonging to families with W* ^ 
median W, Ni is the ith family size, and "W, is the ith family’s welfare 
ratio; log(X) denotes the logarithm of any (positive) number X. W* 
is an essentially arbitrary threshold value comparable to the "poverty 

If W* = 1, then P cannot take on positive values. It would have a 
limiting value of zero if no one were below the poverty line. The 
more severe is poverty, according to this scale, the more negative is 
the value of P. For W* > 1. P could take on positive values and could 
do so even though some families remained below the poverty line. 
However, in both cases, an objective of maximizing P would provide 
a tenable guide to policy formation. 

It would be possible to use some old and honorable terminology 
to add further perspective to the measure proposed here. Without 
doing excessive violence to the ideas of the utilitarians, one could 
specify an over-all utility function for society as the sum of all welfare 

U=^ N.logCiV,)- 

all i 

This magnitude could be broken into two parts: 

P = ^N,log(W,) 

tvhere L is the set of subscripts for families tvith "W ^ 1, and L is all 
the remaining subscripts, 

A = N, log (WO 


U = P-f A 

328 An Economic Definition of Poverty 

Here P will be a negative number (unless there are no poor) and 
could be interpreted as the disutility suffered by society because of 
poverty. The sign of A will be positive and could be termed the 
affluence level of society, part of which is “wasted” as an offset to P in 
the calculation of total utility. 

It should be explicitly noted that the interpretation discussed 
above incorporates a fairly radical form of egalitarian value bias. It 
assumes that, except for the adjustments introduced in defining W 
(family size, location, etc.) , all persons have equal needs; and that, 
other things being equal, including total output of goods and serv- 
ices, society would attain its highest satisfaction from an absolutely 
equal distribution of incomes. No positive value is attached to dis- 
persion of the income distribution even for the sheer delight of 
variety. Practically speaking, there is a relation between total output 
and income dispersion that would almost certainly prevent complete 
equality from being an optimal or even an attainable solution. 

Regarding P as simply an objective function, it is useful to con- 
sider how it would tend to allocate effort among the various levels of 
income. The derivative of P with respect to the welfare ratio of a 
particular family is an indicator of the relative importance of increas- 
ing that family’s welfare ratio. That derivative for the logarithmic 
function is: 

dP _ Ni 
dW~ Wi 

for all families with Wj < W* (=0 otherwise) . Hence, for a family of 
four, at half of the poverty line, the derivative is 8 = 4 -r 0.5. Com- 
pared to a family of four only 20 per cent below the poverty line 
which would have a derivative of 5 = 4 0.8, it is seen to be 60 per 
cent more important to raise the welfare ratio of the former. It would 
be preferable to promote an increase in welfare for the poorer family 
unless it were 60 per cent more expensive to do so. 


It appears to many that calculations of the sort carried out above are 
symptomatic of an extreme insensitivity to human values. How can 
one justify the contention that if it costs too much — ^when too 
much” is given a definite numerical value — it would be better to 

329 Harold Watts 

forsake the poorer family and help the less poor one? The simplest, 
and least invidious, answer is a pragmatic one. If the 8:5 ratio doesn’t 
seem right, we can specify a function that will make it, say, 100:1. 
But at some point, with limited budgets for fighting poverty, choices 
of this sort have to be made. They cannot be made more sensibly by 
refusing to look at the distributional implications than by looking at 
them. An economist draws very little satisfaction from engaging in 
interpersonal comparisons that, according to his training, cannot be 
grounded in objective fact, but must be plainly labeled as value 
judgments. He cannot profess any expertise in making such judg- 
ments, but he can, and must, insist that such judgments be made 
explicit, both to promote democratic debate and to permit consistent 
analysis and choice of policy alternatives. 

A poverty function of the sort displayed above should be care- 
fully distinguished from an over-all social-welfare function. The 
former is at best appropriate for guiding the choices of an agency 
charged with eliminating poverty. For choices that have to be made 
at the Presidential level, a much larger set of national objectives, 
inevitably conflicting at the margin, have to be balanced against each 
other. The poverty level should be one of these, but so should the 
affluence level, national security, mental health, and at least several 

Finally, it should not be assumed that because the poverty index 
depends solely upon the level of command over goods and services, 
the optimal means of reducing poverty must be to increase that level 
as directly and as immediately as possible, for example, to hand out 
money or public jobs. There is nothing in the definition that pre- 
vents Head Start or even prenatal nutrition from being the most 
efficient means of reducing poverty in the sense of amount of poverty 
reduced per dollar spent. Some kinds of direct transfers would almost 
smrely be among the least efficient 


1. Milton Friedman, A Theory of the Consumption Function, National 
Bureau of Economic Research, General Series 63 (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton 
University Press, 1957). 

2. Mollie Orshansky, "Counting the Poor: Another Look at the Poverty 
Profile,” Social Security Bulletin Qanuary 1965) , pp. 3-29. 

3. C£. Hugh Dalton, Principles of Public Finance, 4th ed. (London: Rout- 
ledge and Kegan Paul, 1954) , p. 68. 

Chapter 12 

Identifying the Poor: Economic 
Measures of Poverty 


The purpose of this chapter is to discuss the development of eco- 
nomic definitions of poverty, most of wliich are designed to distin- 
guish the poor from the nonpoor. These identification measures are, 
for the most part, based on income levels, but are in fact attempts to 
reflect the consumption capability of families. The relationsliip be- 
tween income level and consumption will be discussed here in order 
to indicate the implicit assumptions underlying such measures. In 
addition, the relationship between poverty-identification measures 
and the choice among various anti-poverty policies will be examined. 

It is possible to distinguish efforts to identify the poor from 
efforts to describe them. The description exercise requires an initial 
identification and is usually directed at contrasting the incidence of 
certain characteristics of the group designated as poor rvith the inci- 
dence within the nonpoor group (or tire population at large) . Few, if 
any, characteristics are unique to the poor. Horvever, the relative 
incidence provides a clearer picture, both of the impact of poverty on 
the life of the poor and of circumstances that might affect tlie likeli- 
hood of a given family’s being poor. Descriptive analyses provide a 
basis for evaluating certain aspects of the lives of the poor as the 
objects of specific policies designed to reduce either their impact or 
their incidence. Identification measures alone are not a sufficient 
basis for selecting appropiate policies for dealing with poverty. Both 
descriptive analyses and causality analyses are also essential. 

Most of the economic definitions of poverty have been directed 
at the identification problem. The argument is that being poor im- 

331 Gerald Rosenthal 

plies an inability to participate economically in society TOth some 
minimum degree of choice. Intuitively, it is difficult to find a reason- 
able basis on which to argue ivith this economic notion of poverty, 
that is, that poverty is an economically associated circumstance in- 
volving lotv-consumption opportunity. Identifying the poor, there- 
fore, requires an income or consumption-related measure tliat can be 
applied to the population at large. Even evaluation of the “cul- 
ture of poverty,” which represents, perhaps, the most advanced devel- 
opment of a descriptive analysis of poverty, proceeds from the 
identification of families who are poor or areas tliat are composed 
primarily of those who are poor and can thus be distinguished from 
the rest of the population. 

A considerable amount of the debate bettveen those -ivho favor 
economic definitions of poverty and those "isrho prefer social or cul- 
tural descriptions relates to the implications for policy. This chapter 
will discuss the issues involved in developing poverty-identification 
measures based on economic or consumption-related circumstances 
and the implications for policy of these poverty-identification mea- 


An ideal measure for identifying the poor tvould be based on the 
isolation of a single measurable characteristic or group of character- 
istics that all poor possess and all nonpoor do not possess. "Whether 
the characteristics in question are the cause of poverty or the result is, 
for this purpose, of no concern.^ While such an ideal is not achiev- 
able, it is difficult to conceive of any measure even approximating 
this criterion that is not related directly to consiunption ability, and it 
is equally difficult to conceive of any measurement of constimption 
ability that would not depend primarily on family income. The 
identification of the poor essentially involves identifying those mem- 
bers of society ivhose consumption opportunity is lotv. The reference 
is to consumption opportunity, since it is the inability to consume 
and not the low consiunption itself that generates the disutility of 
poverty in both the personal and social sense. 

There are a number of attributes other than measurability and 
objectivity that poverty-identification measures should possess. In ad- 
dition to being related to consumption in a systematic and under- 

353 Gerald Rosenthal 

type of measure starts from the notion of a minimum level of con- 
sumption and attempts to translate that consumption into appropri- 
ate income levels. These measures take account of characteristics such 
as family size, age of head of family, sex of head of family, and 
geographic location. An attempt is made to determine specific bud- 
gets for specific types of families that can support a level of consump- 
tion regarded to be minimal. These budgets usually use nutritional 
requirements adapted to regional food patterns to establish expendi- 
tures on food. The total budget is then estimated on the assumption 
that food will equal one-third of the total budget. These budgets are 
used as standards for income with which to identify the poor for each 
subgroup of the population possessing the characteristics for which 
the given food budget was calculated. 

It is evident that such standards fare better than simple income 
cut-off measures on a number of grounds. While they are consider- 
ably more complex because of the variety of circumstances affecting 
consumption that are considered, they are nevertheless explicitly 
consumption-related, at least to the degree of adjusting income levels 
of different groups of poor to their own consumption requirements. 
In addition, they enable meaningful comparison of various groups at 
one point in time or evaluation of changes in the number of poor 
over time. This last task requires constant updating by repricing the 
budget and, perhaps, revision of what is to be included in the market 
basket of “minimal” consumption. Nevertheless, these measures do 
attempt to deal explicitly with some of the problems which straight 
income cut-off measures do not. 

An alternative approach to the development of equivalent pov- 
erty incomes for families of different composition and location is 
based on the varying relationships between share of income spent on 
food and the size of the income.^ In the budgets noted above, food 
Was assumed to be one-third of the total budget. However, there is 
considerable evidence that the fraction of income spent on various 
forms of consumption tends to change fairly systematically as the 
level of living of the family changes. This observation leads to a 
mechanism for deriving different poverty-income levels based on 
equivalent levels of living for subgroups with different family charac- 
teristics. All that is required initially is that some poverty-level in- 
come be set for one of the subgroups being considered (the base-line 
group) . Although higher incomes are associated with a reduction in 
the share of income going to food purchases, larger families -will 
Spend on food proportions of their income similar to those of smaller 

334 Identifying the Poor: Economic Measures of Poverty 

families with smaller incomes. This leads to the obvious point that 
for a larger family, a higher income is needed to represent the same 
level of living as for a smaller family. This same approach can be 
applied to other family circumstances in terms of geographic loca- 
tion, urban-rural distribution, etc. The income level representing the 
poverty line for each separate group will be the income at which the 
percentage spent on food is the same as that spent by families in the 
base-line group at the previously determined poverty-income cut-off 

It is important to note that by this last set of criteria, each f amil y 
reflects in its spending patterns its view of its level of living, while in 
the previous method, budgetary equivalents are based on some ex- 
plicit, externally established standards for what is a minimally accept- 
able mix of consumption. While stylistically these are two very 
different approaches, they nevertheless both represent attempts to 
incorporate into poverty-identification measures some explicit ack- 
nowledgment of factors that cause differences in the consumption 
opportunity associated with given incomes. 

Another approach to the development of measures of poverty is 
to deal with poverty as a relative phenomenon. The assumption is 
that the specific disutility (or utility) associated with a given income 
is a function of the relationship between that income and some so- 
cietal norm. This has led some to argue that one should assume that 
the bottom 20 per cent of the income distribution is poor and that 
policies should be directed at dealing with the social and economic 
circumstances of this group. Such a poverty-identification criterion is 
not wholly related to the consumption ability implicit in being at the 
lower end of the income distribution. One can envision a number of 
alternative distributions of income with very different implications 
for consumption for the bottom 20 per cent. 

An alternative way of portraying the relative consumption capa- 
bility of the lower 20 per cent is to examine over time the share of 
total income going to this group. From 1947 to 1962, the share of 
total money income going to the lowest 20 per cent ranged from 3.1 
per cent to 3.6 per cent.® By contrast, the highest 20 per cent of 
income earners received from 43.1 per cent to 45.6 per cent. As there 
will always be a lowest 20 per cent, there is no basis in this measure 
for any policy aimed at reduction in the numbers of poor. Neverthe- 
less, changes in the "size of the pie” and of the distribution of income 
are likely to lead to different estimates of the economic deprivation 
suffered by the lowest 20 per cent. 

335 Gerald Rosenthal 

However, there are a number of more sophisticated approaches 
that also attempt to measure poverty in terms of relative economic 
levels that do not have this degree of specificity. Perhaps the best 
example of such an index is based on a suggestion that the poverty- 
income cut-off line should be approximately 50 per cent of the 
median income. “ The cut-off point itself will shift automatically as 
the economic level of society in the aggregate is improved since such 
improvement will be reflected in a rising median income. It is evi- 
dent that there could be a number of income distributions in the 
lower income levels. Although, by definition, 50 per cent of the popu- 
lation falls below the median, a very small percentage of the popula- 
tion could fall below one-half of the median. On the other hand, if 
the income distribution were spread out more toward the lowest 
income brackets, the group within the poverty range would be con- 
siderably greater. 

There is much to commend this kind of an estimator. It does 
adapt itself over time to changes in the societal norms as reflected in 
incomes. Such a poverty-identification measure is easily developed; 
however, it does not distinguish among different distributions of in- 
come below the poverty cut-off line, and in this sense, is not different 
from the other identification measures noted earlier. This deficiency 
can be mitigated somewhat by attempts to estimate the "poverty 
gap," defined as the amount of expenditure that would be required 
to bring all families under the poverty cut-off income up to that 
level. Estimates of the poverty gap do reflect the income distribution 
of the poor; it is quite possible to find radically different poverty gaps 
for two situations in which the same number of persons fall below a 
particular poverty-line income. 

Recent developments, exemplified by Harold Watts’s chapter in 
this volume (Cli. 11), attempt to incorporate into an economic pov- 
erty-identification measure the distribution of incomes within the 
group designated as poor.^ In Watts's measure, the degree of eco- 
nomic deprivation associated with being farther below the poverty 
line is made disproportionately greater than that of being closer to 
the cut-off line by using a weighting scheme based on the notion of 
decreasing marginal deprivation as income rises toward the poverty 
line. Thus, the amount of deprivation associated with a given num- 
ber of poor would be reduced most by increasing the incomes of those 
farthest below the poverty line. This result reflects a particular distri- 
butional view of relative deprivation that determines the weighting 
system used; other weights could be chosen. Watts’s index permits 

336 Identifyhig the Poor: Economic Measxtres of Poi’crt\ 

comparison over time both of the number of poor and of the relative 
disutility associated with the particular distribution of poverty. 


The ideal poverty-identification measure should reflect a single, de- 
finable, quantifiable characteristic that all poor families and onlv 
poor families possess. It is very difficult to find a measure that identi- 
fies only those individuals or families everyone would agree are poor. 
However, all poverty measures must ultimately relate to ability to 
consume. Because consumption is a difficult thing to measure, and 
because there is a considerable degree of ambiguity in determining 
what the ability to consume means, most poverty-identification mea- 
sures have centered on adapting information on family income. In all 
cases the adaptation is directed at one of two problems: either mak- 
ing the measure more consistent with intuitive and theoretical no- 
tions of what poverty is or compensating for some explicit breakdown 
in the "neatness” of the relationship between income and consump- 
tion. In this section, a number of the difficulties with the income- 
consumption relationship will be pointed out in an effort to make 
clear the potential misinformation incorporated in any poverty- 
identification measure based solely on income.® 

The most obvious difficulty is that income-related measures tend 
to ignore alternative sources of consumption: income-in-kind, which 
is particularly significant for rural families, alternative sources of 
income from people who are not part of the household unit, and 
accumulated wealth. To some extent, wealtli as a source of consump- 
tion is partly incorporated into indices using a concept of permanent 
income. The permanent-income concept is based on the assumption 
that a family’s general level of consumption is determined by its long- 
run stable income, although in any given year income may be higher 
or lower. Perhaps the most significant association that might be 
pointed out here is that between ill health and low income. Typi- 
cally, during periods of illness, families are found to spend consider- 
ably more than their incomes by dissaving or absorbing wealth in an 
effort to maintain a consumption level consistent with tJieir usual 
practice. The lowness of income in the particular year of illness is 
considered to be a temporary circumstance. On the other hand, re- 
sponse to windfall income will be quite different from the family 

331 Gerald Rosenthal 

response to an increase of income from the regular earning sources 
which is expected to continue. At any rate, to the extent that there 
are alternative resources available for consumption, a purely income- 
based measure will not be ^vholly indicative of ability to consume. 

A second area of difSculty stems from tlie fact that income mea- 
sures ignore flows of consumption that are not purchased. Most sig- 
nificant are the public sendees such as education, fire and police 
protection, and trash collection. There is evidence of an association 
between the level of income in a neighborhood and the degree to 
■\vhich expenditures are made on public services. Public expenditures 
may not affect the distribution between poor and nonpoor, but the 
degree of relative deprivation associated ^vith a given income may be 
blurred somewhat by ignoring these forms of consumption. It is 
likely that the lower level of public ser\’ices available, for example, in 
an urban ghetto compared with a high-income community increases 
the degree of relative deprivation beyond that indicated by estimat- 
ing only the income differences between the poor and the nonpoor.® 
It may be better to be poor in a rich town tlian poor in a poor town. 
One might prefer the latter for the company, but from an economic 
point of view, it is probably not a good exchange. 

It is also possible that the degree of deprivation that a person 
•with a low income feels is less than might be assumed. Certainly, 
those who do not subscribe to society’s norms (a group ranging from 
hippies on the one hand to rich hermits "living in poverty” on the 
other) provide exceptions to the argument typically made for the 
notion of a societal norm as the basis for relative deprivation. It is 
not likely that such exceptions will make a large numerical differ- 
ence; ho^vever, they illustrate the point tliat vie^vs of "appropriate” 
consumption or “adequate” incomes are based on collective societal 
standards and may or may not reflect an individual’s view of whether 
or not he is poor. There is some evidence that many ■who sho■^v up as 
poor on our indices do not consider themselves poor, while many ■\vho 
would not sho'^v up on any poverty identification measure may very 
well feel themselves economically deprived. 

One of the most difficult problems in translating income levels 
into consumption has to do ■\nth the degree to which it is possible to 
establish a cost for a given amount of consumption. To some e.xtent, 
the amount of consumption implicit in any income level depends on 
prices. To the extent tliat prices change rapidly, any income-based 
measure of consumption potential used to identify the poor will 
require constant updating. More significant is the fact that the price 

338 Identifying the Poor: Economic Measures of Poverty 

levels used in translating specific budgets into an individual’s income 
requirement tend to be based on general price levels in an area. 
There is considerable evidence that markets and pricing mechanisms 
are such that the poor tend to pay more, item by item, than those 
living in the same general area who are not Part of this is a 
reflection of geographic immobility that limits the markets that are 
relevant for loAV-income purchasers and part an inability to buy 
larger sizes so that the poor are always paying a premium for having 
little cash or being unable to obtain credit at a reasonable cost. 

It is hard to estimate the degree to which the price differences 
exist, but some indication can be gained from the results of a recent 
examination of prices in three stores in an urban area, two of which 
serv'e primarily a low-income urban population, the third of which is 
part of a chain serving people throughout a major metropolitan area. 
In some cases, the prices were the same in the three stores, but in 
most, the prices in the t^vo stores catering primarily to the poor tvere 
between 20 and 50 per cent higher for identical brands and sizes. 
Even between the two local stores (under the same ownership) price 
differences were observed, and, more significant, there was a consider- 
able number of items tvith no prices marked. I am assured by many 
that the number of goods with no prices marked increases the day 
that welfare checks are distributed. 

It is evident that the relationship between income and consump- 
tion is not a perfect one, and that income-based measures of poverty 
only partly reflect consumption ability. Nevertheless, they remain, 
and are likely to remain, the least ambiguous and most generally 
acceptable basis on which to identify the poor. Each of the various 
poverty-identification measures discussed above attempts to incor- 
porate refinements that would make the income-based measure more 
reflective of tlie consumption needs of families. 


It is important to examine some of the ways in which the use of the 
poverty-identification measure itself will have an impact on the selec- 
tion of "appropriate” policies for dealing with poverty. 

There are three directions for development of poverty policy. 
The first set of policies is devoted to reducing the number of poor. 
The second set of policies is directed totvard increasing the amount 

539 Gerald Rosenthal 

of consumption possible with a given income. The third set relates to 
decreasing the disutility of poverty. Thus, policies can be directed at 
raising income, raising consumption, or improving certain environ- 
mental, social, and cultural circumstances of the poor that are con- 
sidered to be inappropriate or undesirable. It is essential to note the 
implications of the fact that not all policies tvith regard to poverty 
are directed at a reduction of the number of poor. Because this is 
true, changes in the value of identification measures that enumerate 
the poor and distinguish them from the nonpoor will not serv’e as a 
performance measure for all policies directed toward the problems of 

Certain kinds of policies that serve the over-all anti-poverty ob- 
jectives will not have any impact whatever on any count of the poor. 
Insistence that income-related economic identification measures serve 
as the only performance guide favors policies that have some impact 
on reducing the numbers of the poor. This creates a bias away from 
policies dealing with cultural difficulties, providing nonincome forms 
of services, and dealing directly with the consumption-income rela- 
tionship, a bias that may be inconsistent with the over-all objectives 
of poverty policy. It stems not from anything inherent in the use of 
an economic measure of poverty for identification, but in requiring a 
poverty count to be a performance reflector for all the policies in 

A difficulty that follows from the above is the shortening of the 
time horizon for evaluation. To the extent that good policies are 
considered to be those that reduce the number of the poor and bad 
policies are those that do not, a high premium will be placed on 
carrying out activities that take less time to show up in the form of 
increased income (that is, reduced poor) . This means that hu- 
man capital-investment policies directed at the reduction of the in- 
tergenerational transfer of poverty are likely to look worse in terms of 
performance than those policies that directly transfer resources in 
sufficient quantity to move individuals above the poverty line. For 
example, make-work policies would be preferable to education for 
children, which has no short-run payoff. It is evident that such a 
short time-horizon may lead to policies that, over a longer time span, 
might not prove to be the best means of reducing the number of 
poor. Judging activities that represent an investment in future earn- 
ing capacity by this limited, immediate, economic performance mea- 
sure tends to make it more likely tliat policy choices tvill, in the long 
run, be less than optimal. 

340 Identifying the Poor: Economic Measures of Poirr:\ 

The use of the economic identification measure ns the sole p<r. 
formance guide also leads to a tendenc}- to deal with the "enss” pcyi- 
By most such measures, some fixed amount of income represents tl r 
cut-off point between poor and nonpoor. To the extent tint .x 
dollars are going to be redistributed to bolster incomes, it wouhi hr 
"better” to concentrate on those individuals whose poverty gap 
(difference between the poverty cut-off line and their income) is 
smaller. This means that one would be less likely to devote resources 
tosvard improving the income position of an individual the farther 
his income falls below the poverty cut-off line. TJiis same effect is 
observ'able in job-training-program selection criteria. The candidate 
preferred (and most likely to become a “success”) is the one closest to 
"not needing” the training, just as the success of students from the 
best schools may be more a function of admission-selection proce- 
dures than of educational quality. 

Explicit acknowledgment of this potentiality is found in the 
Watts measure in this volume in that a relatively higher premium is 
placed on a given unit of increased income for those fartliest away 
from the poverty line than for those closer to it. Under tlie Watts 
poverty identification criterion, the optimal policy •would be always 
to act so that resources were distributed to those who were tlie poor- 
est. Such a decision criterion may be consistent with intuitive prefer- 
ences, although it could lead to policies that resulted in no reduction 
in the number of the poor despite large expenditures. In fact, opti- 
mal policy might indicate no reduction in the number of poor until 
everyone was immediately adjacent to the poverty line, that is, the 
poverty gap for a group would be reduced without regard to tiic 
change in the number of poor. Insistence on use of reduction of the 
number of poor as a performance guide for poverty policies will tend 
to bias efforts ats^ay from longer term policies and policies directed at 
mitigating the circumstances of the poor, as well as from those that 
are directed specifically toward changing the amount of consumption 
attainable with a given income. Certainly, policies directed at im- 
proving the markets that sen'e the poor, increasing competition, 
making available a more extended purchasing area, and providing 
consumer counseling, all sen'e to improve the economic and con- 
sumption circumstances of the poor without changing their income 
levels at all. Such activities may be more fruitful in consumption 
terms than considerable increases of income although, using reduc- 
tion of the number of the poor as a criterion, no improvement at all 
will follotv from this type of policy. 

341 Gerald Rosenthal 


This chapter has been directed at a discussion of the development 
of poverty-identification measures based on income and the 
consumption-income relationship. Some of the implications of exces- 
sive reliance on poverty-identification measures as a substitute for 
more intensive analysis in terms of policy selection have also been 
described. In this connection, one might ask if raising incomes of the 
poor above the poverty cut-off for an extended period irould leave a 
subgroup of population still identifiable as being unique and distinct 
from the rest of the population of the country. A considerable seg- 
ment of opinion would argue that after an extended period (beyond 
a single generation or so) of living in poverty, even the elimination of 
low income would not serve to mitigate significantly many of the 
constraining circumstances of the poor. On the other hand, there are 
those who argue that, given a reasonable time period at a higher 
level of income, an erosion of the circumstances that generate the 
disutility of poverty would occur, and that, in the long run, it would 
be difficult to distinguish the previous poor from the previous non- 
poor. The answer to this question clearly must come from a more 
intensive analysis of the characteristics of the poor and the tenacity of 
such characteristics in the absence of low income or in spite of in- 
creases in income. 


1. This is the subject of causality analysis. 

2. Council of Economic Advisers, Annual Report (January 1964) , pp. 57 “ 58 - 

3. Mollie Orshansky, "Counting the Poor: Another Look at the Poverty 
Profile,” Social Security Bulletin (January 1965) . 

4. Harold Watts, "The Iso-Prop Index: An Approacli to the Determination 
of Differential Poverty Income Thresholds," The Journal of Human Resources 
(Winter 19G7) , pp. 3-18. 

5. Herman Miller, Income Distribution in the United States, igGo Mono- 
graph, Buieau of the Census (19G6) , p. 21. 

6. Victor Fuciis, "Totvard a Thcoiy of Poserq,” in The Concept of Poverty, 
First Report, Task Force on Economic Growth and Oppoitunit), Chamber of 
Commerce (igG5) , pp. 71-gi. 

7. Harold Watts, "An Economic Definition of Poverty,” this \olume, Ch. it. 

S. Because the discussion in this chapter is restricted to poterty-identification 

measures, the impoilant questions of longer run income le\cls and shifts in the 
group of poor fiom year to year are not dealt with. The identification measures 
typically treat cuirent-ycar annual income as the appiopriatc base to reflect 

3^2 Idcntijymg the Poor: Economic Measures of Potrr/v 

consumption while the permanent-income approach attempts to incortvra** 
longer run view of income. Obsiously, the stability of income mav be as'rc’” 
as its size in any given year in determining the consumption position of s '--V 
The suggestion, howeser, that the poor should be identified as those fj- ' - 
whose lifetime income is below a lifetime poverty line implies more util'ts 
posthumous designation of the poor than might be desirable. To infer IT--:-. 
income while the family head is not dead requires considerable reliance c- 
current or recent previous-period incomes, subject to many of the difiinilties nv-N* 
g. See S. M. Miller ct al., "Poverty, Inequality, and Conflict,” Annsb c' p:- 
American Academy of Political and Social Science (September 1967). ‘ 

10. David Caploviu, The Poor Pay More (Nere York; The Free Press c' 
Glencoe, 1963) . 


^ Social Class Research and Images 
of the Poo7': A Bibliographic Review 



Social class and social status may well be the most potverful of all the 
conceptual tools in the sociologist’s kit of ideas about social life. We 
all share a strong interest in these topics; indeed, part of tlte power of 
tliese concepts is based on the fact that they refer to phenomena of 
tddespread human interest. Ho^vever, the main reason for the po-wer 
of the concepts of social class and status is that their use in providing 
explanations of social behavior has led to increased understanding of 
tlie sources of diEerences among individuals and social groups. 

Social class, social status, and their operational counterpart, 
socio-economic status, really came into tlieir own witli tlie develop- 
ment of large-scale empirical social research in the 1930s. The early 
community studies by Lynd and IVarner drew attention from lay 
and professional audiences alike. From these investigations we 
learned in a more definitive way what we knew in our hearts all 
along: that America was a class society. From the researches that 
foUots'ed (ivhich by now must number in tlie thousands) , ive learned 
things that ivere not so obvious deep in our hearts. Most important of 
all, we learned that socio-economic status created pen'asive lines of 
diSerentiation in our population. We always knew that the poor had 
higher mortality rates than their more prosperous felloiv citizens; 

Support for the research underling this chapter came from a grant from the 
American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a grant from the Russell Sage Founda- 
tion, and rras rrritten while the second author was on a Reflectire Year Fellowship 
from Carneeie Corporation of New Y'ork. Their help is gratefully acknowledged. 

344 Appendix 

that was an obvious conclusion to draw from the conditions under 
^vhich the poor lived. Hotvever, we did not kno-w many of tlie otlier 
things that empirical research brought to light; for example, socio- 
economic strata varied in their cliild-rearing practices, attitudes to- 
•ivard foreign policy, and regard for civil liberties. Even more striking 
was the fact that they varied in ways that went contrary to conven- 
tional commonsense “knowledge.” 

The tradition of research into the concomitants of socio- 
economic status is so extensive in time and breadth that it would 
seem extremely fruitful to examine existing studies in order to bring 
together what is known about the characteristics of the poor. After 
all, the poor, by any definition, anchor the bottom end of the socio- 
economic ladder and should therefore have received more than pass- 
ing attention in the studies that have been conducted since the be- 
ginnings of empirical social research. Indeed, many of the early 
classics of sociological surveys were concerned with this group, for 
example. Booth’s study of the London poor and the social sur\’eys 
conducted in city after city in this country during the ttventies. Some 
of this early traditional concern must certainly have been retained by 
later investigators, or so we thought. 

The goal we had in mind in undertaking this survey of empiri- 
cal findings about the poor 'ivas to sort out and display -what was 
definitely known about the characteristics of the poor. Altliough tve 
did not entirely achieve this goal, for reasons tve shall later present, 
we did manage to uncover enough information to cast some light on 
the nature of socio-economic differences in general and to make some 
assertions about the characteristics of the poor. However, our survey 
of the literature also brought to light hotv little is knotvn firmly and 
definitively about this group. 

Like F. Scott Fitzgerald, sociologists have been fascinated by the 
rich and the powerful. The poor have not been fascinating enough to 
be studied in detail, although they are usually included in studies 
that cover the range of socio-economic differentiation. 

We encountered other disappointments in our search of tlie lit- 
erature. First of all, the ■writings about empirical findings have been 
generally stronger than the findings themselves. Americans of differ- 
ent socio-economic status are different in other respects, but there are 
blurred, rather than clear-cut, lines of distinction. Second, the find- 
ings have not been uniform either in direction or strength. Some 
investigators have found one tendency; others find another. These 

345 Appendix 

variations are due partly to method, partly to different time periods 
under study, and partly to rhetorics of interpretation. Finally, there 
are few studies that protlde data representative of the nation as a 
t^hole. Most are community studies of limited generality. 

Despite these drawbacks, we believe there is merit in presenting 
the review and summary of literature that occupies the ne.xt pages. 
■\\^e have been able finally to assess tlie state of our knotvledge in this 
area. In some cases, -we have been able to make fairly definite state- 
ments; in others, the evidence is so weak and fragile that it is only 
clear that tve do not knotv veiy’ much. IVe have been able to shotv 
that it is not veiy- likely that the poor shou' characteristics that are 
distinctively different from those of groups that are close to them in 
social standing. Socio-economic status is more a continuum than a set 
of discrete classes. The end result of our endeavors has been to place 
bounds on our knotvledge and to indicate the gaps in our imder- 


Since the literature dealing witli social class as a variable is consid- 
erable, it was obnous from tlie start that the entire body of this 
literature could not be surveyed. Consequently, a number of topics 
had to be omitted at the outset and some limits established on the 
inclusion of material. Since our bias is in the direction of empirical 
sociolog)’, our coverage of a number of related disciplines is undoubt- 
edly incomplete. The most serious omission is the economic treat- 
ment of poverty, an area in which we may claim no particular 
competence. A number of areas rvithin tire usual meaning of social 
stratification (for example, occupational prestige, social mobility, 
and stratification theoty’) tvere excluded from the start. "We have also 
eliminated studies dealing ■with social-class measurement and metlr- 

kVe began by systematically screening each issue of the major 
sociological journals, and a number of related publications, from 
1950 to 1966.1 Articles that dealt with the correlates of social-class 

1 . American Journal of Sociology, American Sociological Review, Journal of 
Educational Sociology, Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, Journal of 
Social Issues, Marriage and Family Living, Public Opinion Quarterly, Social 
Forces, Social Problems, Social TVork, Sociometry, Welfare in Reviev.'. 

346 Appendix 

position were read and abstracted. Relevant references to separate 
monographs or to journal articles not subject to the screening were 
also read and abstracted. In addition, published collections of articles 
and conference proceedings dealing with poverty were covered. A 
preliminary draft of our bibliography was circulated to participants 
in the seminar on poverty and to other interested persons. As a result 
of their cooperation, many omissions were called to our attention 
and some unpublished material made available to us. An earlier 
version of this chapter was presented at the August 1967 meeting of the 
Sociological Research Association, San Francisco, California, and we 
have incorporated many of the suggestions arising from that presen- 
tation in the present revision. In spite of precautions, there are obvi- 
ous gaps. There is no sure way of estimating the number of relevant 
articles missed by our screening methods. More serious, since the 
start of the War on Poverty a great deal of research on the “poor” has 
been undertaken. Unless, either through chance or sociometric re- 
ferral, unpublished memoranda from these ongoing researches have 
passed tlnrough our hands, projects that may in a few years contribute 
the bulk of our knowledge concerning the characteristics of the 
present-day “poor” are not systematically covered. 

Our original screening, plus the referrals, netted approximately 
750 articles and books; clearly, some criteria had to be established for 
putting manageable bounds on the material to allow for integration 
and analysis. Given our bias toward empirical research, most of the 
impressionistic articles dealing with the poor have been excluded. 
Research studies with obvious deficiencies in either research design, 
sampling methods, or analysis were excluded on the grounds tliat 
their findings and interpretations were unknowable or limited of 
value. In principle, this is a sound approach; in practice, it has its 
limitations. A number of areas, for example, tlie place of work in 
individual self-identification, the possible differential handling of de- 
linquents from various social classes by latv-enforcement agencies, the 
uses of leisure by social class, or the ideology of tvelfare, are so 
sparsely researched that we had to rely on every shred of evidence 
available for interpretation. In a number of other areas, for example, 
child-rearing practices, educational and occupational aspirations of 
adolescents, and studies relating socio-economic status and perfor- 
mance on intelligence tests, the literature is so extensive that the 
citations, perforce, reflect some degree of selection among works we 
considered to be equivalent in value. 

347 Appendix 


The published literature dealing with those on the very bottom of 
the stratification system is on the whole somewhat limited. To begin 
with, few studies have been concerned with systematically describing 
the characteristics of the very poor, the outstanding exception being 
the Survey Research Center’s survey of income and labor force par- 
ticipation, based on a probability national sample augmented by 
oversampling of low-income households (Morgan et ah, 1962) . We 
are thus left in the position of creating a collage from numerous 
findings, collected in different places and at different times. Since few 
studies have utilized probability samples of the national populace, 
it is questionable how reliable available results are as estimates of the 
country’s “true” patterns. The available studies lead us to suspect the 
existence of appreciable regional and ethnic differences in class- 
related behavior, but these subgroup variations have yet to be system- 
atically documented. 

Second, in order to compare findings across studies, it is impor- 
tant that the discrete groupings into which the study populations are 
divided be consistent. By and large, however, researchers have tended 
to dichotomize their study populations, the most common being 
“working/middle-class” or "blue/white-collar” divisions. Even 
among studies that use the same gross dichotomy, for example, 
“working/middle-class,” the cutting points utilized are often differ- 
ent, so that comparisons are difficult to make. It is obvious that this 
dichotomization and use of ordinal scales can lead to different inter- 
pretations of identical “raw” findings, since a change in the cutting 
point between groups can lead to a change in the observed percent- 
age differences. A number of researchers have continuously stressed 
that variations in behavior are present within these groupings that 
should not be overlooked. Yet, for example, the typology suggested 
by S. M. Miller (1964) or Walter Miller’s (1958) characterization of 
the lower class in terms of six “focal concerns” has not been rigor- 
ously tested.2 In many instances, data are available from which to 

2. The study by Cohen and Hodges (1963) is a notable attempt to charac- 
terize the “lower-blue-collar” class and its differences from our groups; but even 
there, as the authors admit, "the interpretations are post facto attempts to make 
sense of our data.” Another example is the comparison of the child-rearing 
environment and family functioning of "upper-lower” and “very low-lower” 
class families by Pavenstedt (1965) . The over-all theoretical orientation of this 
study, however, was psychoanalytic, and the criteria for dividing families into 
the tivo groups do not lend themselves to replication. 

348 Appeiidix 

make finer distinctions, but because the samples are small, the au- 
thors collapse their categories and so obliterate finer points. 

Third, most of the writers have been so impressed with the find- 
ing that socio-economic position (no matter how measured) is associ- 
ated with a variety of dependent variables that they have generally 
not taken the further steps of assessing the strength or degrees of 
relationship or attempting to explain tvhy such relationships are 
found. Few investigators have employed measures of association that 
allow the reader to assess how strongly a particular dependent vari- 
able is related to socio-economic status. As a consequence, descriptive 
statements usually lend themselves to somewhat exaggerated views of 
class differences. For example, the literature on “need achievement” 
contains findings tirat, when translated into correlation coefficients, 
are of the order of .2-4, but descriptive statements about the find- 
ings give the impression that there are strikingly different orienta- 
tions to achievement by socio-economic status. To some extent, these 
ambiguities in the literature have carried over into this chapter. 

Similarly, the finding that socio-economic status is correlated with 
some dependent variable is very infrequently followed up with either 
further empirical specification or speculation concerning the causal 
nexus between SES and the dependent variable in question. With 
tire notable exceptions of Merton (1957) and Kriesberg (1963), who 
have attempted to work out rationales for class differences, most so- 
cial scientists typically regard such findings as ultimate explanations 
requiring little further exploration. For example, the relationship 
between SES and tests of intellectual functioning has been docu- 
mented for decades, yet only recently has one of the prior variables, 
that is, linguistic development, been studied. The precise effects of 
some intervening variables, such as quality of education, are still 
unclear. We could, by drawing elaborate causal models based on 
numerous studies, reconstruct some of these relationships, but the 
problem of markedly different sampling designs from study to study 
would obstruct such aii effort. Or, the inverse relationship bettveen 
socio-economic status and divorce is rvell documented, but with the 
exception of William Goode’s (1951, 1966) explanation and tire 
Moynihan report, fetv studies have set out to study this relationship 
empirically with a sample large enough to allotv for the possibility 
that different meclianisms may be causing tire relationship observed 
at different levels. A study of the sU'ucture and functioning of die 
Negro family in the United States, to the best of our knowledge, has 

349 Appendix 

not been published.^ As a consequence o£ the research of the past few 
decades, we know a lot about what the differences are among socio- 
economic groups, but very little about why such differences exist. 

Two additional problems were encountered, but not solved to 
our complete satisfaction: comparability of findings and the histori- 
cal period that the studies cover. The research technology available 
to social scientists has grown rapidly in sophistication over the period 
surveyed; researchers in the mid-sixties have access to electronic com- 
puters that were unavailable to the researcher of the fifties. More 
funds for research were available in the later period. Consequently, 
comparisons and juxtapositions of findings from different periods are 
fraught with danger. Furthermore, we have no way of assessing 
whether some of the findings reported at the start of our period are 
still relevant today, or conversely. Consequently the reader is cau- 
tioned not to regard the empirical information related in our analy- 
sis as holding for all times and places. For example, the political 
apathy of the poor is well documented, but under certain circum- 
stances, such as the igfiy racial riots, politicization of the poor can 


In the current literature on the poor and in policy discussions 
the defi nition of pov erty is an unresolved prob lem. All agree that 
those living in poverty are._p ersons and ho useholds that have consid- 
erably less than average access to goods and services andTonsiderably 
less than average financial and other resources. There is no agree- 
ment, however, on where to draw the poverty line, that is, on what 
constitutes minimum adequacy and on how many Americans can be 
considered “poor.” This disagreement can be expected to continue 
indefinitely for two reasons: First, because no index and no cutting 
point will do everything that every party to the dispute would desire, 
and second, because social change will not acquiesce in the preserva- 
tion of any index.® 

3. E. Franklin Frazier’s (1939) classic study, now more than thirty years old, 
rests heavily on relatively slight research and is geared to a period in American 
Negro history that is noiv long past. 

4. In this sense, Marx’ characterization of the lumpenproletariat as, at best, 
politically inert, and at worst, counter-revolutionary, was historically conditioned. 

5. Examples of these discussions can be found in Gordon (1965) , Harrington 
(1962) , Orshansky (1965) , W. H. Locke Anderson (1964) , and Ferman et al. 

(>965) • 

B50 Appendix 

Part of the disagreement over the concepts of the "poor” and of 
“poverty" stems from the distinction, often implicit, made by many 
witers, betiveen avo types of poverty and of poor people. On the one 
hand, there are the “respectable” poor, persons rvho are just like 
standard middle-class Americans except that they have less income 
and -^vealth. On the other hand, there are the “disreputable” poor, 
those who not only have limited resources, but also behave differently 
or hold values different from those of standard middle-class Ameri- 
cans. For example, Warner and his students (1949) distinguish a 
lo^ver-lower class from an upper-lower class primarily on the basis of 
values and behavior.® Marx (1914) used the term lumpenproletariat 
to characterize tlie most disorganized and bestialized element of the 
working class. He predicted that the lumpenproletariat tvould be 
used by counter-revolutionary forces to oppose the righteous revolu- 
tion of the working class."^ 

Contemporary' discussions of the poor distinguish behveen those 
who, because of events of their life cycle or the chance happenings of 
disaster, "happen” to be suffering from a low level of income and 
wealth (the aged, the sick, the disabled, the victims of economic dislo- 
cations) and the "cluronic” poor, those ivho are unable to “make a go 
of it” because of character deficiencies or lack of skill. It is the latter 
group upon which the greatest attention is centered. A set of terms 
has been filtering into the literature to characterize this group: "the 
new poor,” “multiproblem families,” the "new working class,” “un- 
stable families,” "the culture of poverty,” and so on. Other terms 
(for example, the "disreputable poor” and "paupers”) have been 
refurbished, usually encased in quotation marks, presumably to indi- 
cate that they are being used without old-fashioned pejorative conno- 
tations. Note that all of these terms are used to imply that something 
more than income is missing in this group. They indicate that these 
are people who are poor and who cannot cope ■with their poverty 
despite their lack of any obvious physical and mental disabilities. 
These are people svho “make noise,” “cause trouble,” and generally 

6. In Social Class in 4 -erica, Warner distinguishes a "common-man” level 
described by his respond‘'nts as "poor but respectable,” "poor but honest,” and 
"poor but hardworking,” from a "below the common man level" described as 
"river rats,” "pedcenvoods,” “dirty and immoral," and "those who live like pigs. 

7. In the iSlh Brumaire, Marx writes: "Along with ruined roues of question- 
able means of support and questionable antecedents, along 'ivith foul and 
adrenture-seeking dregs of the bourgeoisie, there were vagabonds, dismissed 
soldiers, discharged convicts, runaway galley slaves, . . . — in short, the 
undefined, dissolute, kicked-about mass that tlie Frenchmen style 'la boheme. 

351 Appendix 

create “problems” for the rest of society.® The "poor,” then, to whom 
the major amount of attention is addressed in the new literature on 
poverty, are those whose income is low (excluding the disabled, the 
retired, and the temporarily poor) , who are unable to cope success- 
fully even at a minimal level with their poverty and who present 
problems to society. Although no single writer employs precisely this 
definition, we think it covers the essential features of most.® 

There are nvo important distinctions of this definition: Firs t, the 
definition stresses the noneconomic aspects of poverty and hence is 
more in keeping with social policies that are directed at changing 
values and behavior than with policies that stress full employment 
and income maintenance. Second, it is a definition that easily be- 
comes circular: The target population is defined as poor because they 
manifest certain characteristic problems; the problems are then ex- 
plained as due to the fact that the target population is poor. 

This new literature that describes the specific characteristics of 
the "lower-lowers” (to use Warner’s neutral term) tends to consist of 
case studies or qualitative field observations rather than extensive, 
quantitative, systematic analyses of population characteristics. Per- 
haps because the literature is so meager there is considerable agree- 
ment among writers concerning specific characteristics that are mani- 
fested by the “lower-lowers.” These features include: 

1. Labor-Force Participation. Long periods of unemployment 
and/or very intermittent employment. Public assistance is frequently 
a major source of income for extended periods. 

2. Occupational Participation. When employed, persons hold 
jobs at the lowest levels of skills, for example, domestic service, un- 
skilled labor, menial service jobs, and farm labor. 

3. Family and Interpersonal Relations. High rates of marital 
instability (desertion, divorce, separation) , high incidence of house- 
holds headed by females, high rates of illegitimacy; unstable and 

8. As Matza (1966) points out, this is especially evident in the British term, 
"problem family,” and the American adaptation, "multiproblem family.” 

9. Jerome Cohen, 1964; Engel, 1966; Harrington, 1962; O. Lewis, 1965: Lock- 
wood, 1960; Matza, 1966; S. M. Miller, 1964a, ig64b: Walter Miller, 1958, 1959: 
Pavenstedt, 1965; Riessman, 1962, 1964; and Schneiderman, 1964, 1965' Of these 
writers, S. M. Miller has attempted to elaborate a typology of the lower classes, 
distinguishing essentially between the "hopeless” poor and those who are attempt- 
ing to cope with their problems. 

352 Appendix 

superficial interpersonal relationships characterized by considerable 
suspicion o£ persons outside the immediate household. 

4. Covimunity Characteristics. Residential areas with verv 
poorly developed voluntarj' associations and low levels of participa- 
tion in such local voluntary associations as exist. 

5. Relationship to Larger Society. Little interest in, or knowl- 
edge of, the larger society and its events; some degree of alienation 
from the larger society. 

6. Value Orientation. A sense of helplessness and low sense of 
personal efficacy; dogmatism and authoritarianism in political ideol- 
ogy; fundamentalist religious views, with some strong inclinations 
toward beliefs in magical practices. Low “need achievement” and low 
levels of aspirations for the self. 

Although several other characteristics could be added to this 
inventory, our informal content analysis of the literature indicates 
tliat these characteristics are those over which there is considerable 
consensus and that tend to be stressed as critical features of the "low- 

Dissent among writers centers around three issues; F hst, t here is 
the question of whether the “lower-lowers” are “happy” or not. Some 
writers extol the spontaneity of expression among this group, while 
others ascribe the same phenomenon to lack of impulse control. Some 
see the poor as having a fine and warm sense of humor, but others 
regard their humor as bitter and sad. Some claim that the poor arc 
desperately trying to change their condition, sinking into apathy 
when it becomes clear to them that the odds are greatly against their 
being able to do so; others deny that a strong desire for change 

\ The second major point of disagreement arises over whether or 
1 not the “lower-lotvers” have developed a contra-culture — a rejection 
f of the core values of American society — or whether they are best 
I characterized by what Hyman Rodman (1963) calls “value stretch,” a 
I condition in which the main values are accepted as valid, by persons, 

J who, nonetheless, exempt themselves from fulfilling the requirement 
I of 

10. As described in Rodman (1963) , the concept of "value stretch" is a phe- 
nomenon not peculiar to the “lower-lowers.” No normative system is adhered to 
completely by everyone in the society, and depending upon the norms in question, 

353 Appendix 

A third issue over which there is some disagreement concerns the 
extent to which the characteristics of die poor are "cultural” or "situ- 
ational.” From the point of view of some writers, many features of 
"loiver-loiver” life are passed on from generation to generation form- 
ing a "culture (or subculture) of poverty,” which once started is as 
difficult to change as any other valid culture (O. Lewis, 1965; 
Walter Miller, 1958). Other ivriters stress the situational determi- 
nants of these cliaracteristics, indicating that they arise as accommo- 
dadve responses to the conditions of poverty (Kriesberg, 1963; 
Raimvater, 1966) . Obviously, this issue to some extent overlaps the 
second area of disagreement described above: A contra-culture is a 
subculture although a subculture need not necessarily be set up in 
opposition to the main cultural streams of a society. 

Even if ive had limited our discussion to those sets of characteris- 
tics about which minimal consensus exists, it still would have been a 
major undertaking , to draiv a defin it ive portr ait of the poor. The 
major reason for this difficulty is that the literature describing' the 
"lower-lower” class does not provide us tvith information on the rela- 
tive iveights to be attributed to these characteristics. Thus, if we take 
die position that a person (or household) is to be counted as a mem- 
ber of the "loiver-loiver” group if and only if he manifests each and 
every one of the characteristics described above, then it is obvi- 
ous that extremely small numbers of the population would fall into 
the group so defined. The addition of each characteristic necessarily 
restricts the eligible population, except when characteristics are very 
highly correlated ndth each other. It is doubtful, hoivever, whether 
sucli a rigorous definition of the poor is subscribed to by any one of 
the writers whose orientations we have discussed. 

It seems more sensible to apply these defining characteristics 
according to some sort of scale. However, in this case, the critical 
question becomes what is^eight should be given to each of the char- 
acteristics, that is, which are the most essential characteristics, the 
absence or presence of which should more definitely determine 
whether or not an individual or household is to be a member of the 
"lower-lower” class. At the simplest level, the presence or absence 

the latitude given for compliance can be considerable. For example, adultery has 
undoubtedly been rvidespiead throughout the whole range of American social 
strata, although there is clear evidence from attitude surveys that legitimate sexual 
alliances are to be preferred over adulterous ones. If there is any reason for the 
concept to be applied to the "lower-lowers” with more force than to any other 
group in American society, it is that tireir lives (for a variety of reasons) depart 
from standard American in more areas arrd more dramatically. 

B54 Appendix 

of each characteristic can be weighted in deciding whether or not 
an individual or household is to be counted among the “lower- 
lowers.” Then the critical question becomes what weight should be 
given to each of the characteristics, which are the more essential 
characteristics that should be given greater weight in determining 
placement among the “lower-lowers.” 

Although most of the writers have not been particularly clear on 
this point, we assume that occupation is the sine qua non of the 
“lower-lowers.” Hence, “lower-lower” characterizes persons or house- 
holds whose main breadwinner is permanently unemployed and/or, 
when employed, holds down occupations on the lowest-skill and 
lowest-income levels. However, since, according to the literature, not 
all such persons should be considered members of the “lower-lower” 
class, persons in this group have to manifest some, or all, of the other 
characteristics described in order to be considered members of the 
“lower-lower” class. 

In short, a person — or household — to be considered of the 
“lower-lower” class displays certain occupational characteristics and 
also some (as yet unspecified) combination of behavioral or attitudi- 
nal characteristics.^^ por the purposes of this chapter it was not neces- 
sary to come to grips fully with this question; our main concern was 
with the general correlates of socio-economic position. 

The overview of our knowledge about the poor, presented 
earlier in this volume, was derived from a synthesis of the empirical 
literature and a comparison between these findings and the com- 
posite picture derived from the qualitative and impressionistic mate- 
rial just presented. If the differences shown in the empirical material 
between middle class and working class were such that an extrapola- 
tion from them resulted in a prediction of “lower-lower” class 
behavior that is consistent with the descriptions provided in our 
composite portrait, then we would have some basis for inferring that 

11. Note that Warner bypasses this question entirely by defining membership 
in a particular class in terms of some sort of consensus in a community that the 
individual or househoH in question belongs in that class (Warner, 1949b) . Hence, 
his definition of the '‘lower-lov\’ers” is perhaps the least subject to circularity, 
although the most difficult to apply in a given empirical situation. 

12. Obviously, this is not yet a woikable definition, since the way in which 
these secondary ciiaracteristics are to be combined in an index or scale has yet to 
be specified. Exactly how some of the writers on the poor (see especially O. Lewis, 
1965) come up with estimates of the proportion of the total population who are 
"lower-lower” or “living in the culture of poverty” is something of a mystery. We 
suspect that these estimates are arrived at by considering a combination of income 
and occupation, eliminating those who are "merely” poor by subtracting the old, 
disabled, and temporarily unemployed, leaving the residual as those "living in the 
culture of poverty.” 

335 Appendix 

the “lower-lower” class is not qualitatively different from the rest of 
society but simply more extreme in these behaviors. On the other 
hand, if extrapolation from knotvn differences had resulted in pre- 
dictions that were inconsistent ivith our composite portrait ^ve -would 
have had reason to infer that the poor are indeed qualitatively differ- 
ent from the rest of the population. As argued above, horvever, om- 
findings indicated that the major differences are quantitative, not 

It could be said that our strategy was deficient: On the one 
hand, we constructed a composite portrait based on nonsystematic 
and impressionistic evidence and, on the other hand, confronted it 
with almost ttvo decades of empirical research. Indeed, it may even 
be argued that this portrait is incorrect and that no conclusive infer- 
ences can be made. It is our belief, however, that given the current 
state of kno-^vledge about the poor, our conclusion was the most 
reasonable. The question of the accuracy of our inferences and ex- 
trapolations cannot be resolved until the large-scale, quantitative 
studies of representative samples of the poor provide the necessary 


This part of the chapter is a series of short stories, each covering a 
substantive area in ivhich some social-class differentials have been 
found. In condensed form, these sections provide for the reader the 
"raw data" from which ^\•e have drawn many of our inferences about 
the poor in the United States. The synthesis attempted -^dthin each 
area will also prosude a useful entry point for social scientists and 
lawmen to the literature on social class and poverty. 

The classification system employed here attempts to be system- 
atic but is clearly not the only way these studies can be grouped. 
Some readers may find it useful to rearrange findings in rvhat are 
analytically more useful ways. In the case of small studies or labora- 
tory experiments classification was not difficult, and extracting the 
major finding was an easy task. When we -svere confronted -with large- 
scale national surveys, the problem was more difficult. In tliese cases, 
■sve have reported one or t^vo relevant findings and left the fuller 
richness of the socio-economic status materials to be investigated by 
the reader. 

356 Appendix 

Both in the text itself and in numerous footnotes we have indi- 
cated sources of additional information or corroborative studies. It 
should be remembered that the main reason for citing a study is not 
because it is an exemplar of empirical research but because it pro- 
vides some evidence, no matter how precariously established, con- 
cerning socio-economic status and its correlates. We are a^vare that 
both our citations and bibliography may leave the reader ^vith an 
enigma: Namely, was omitted material with which he is personally 
acquainted merely overlooked or considered inadequate for inclu- 
sion? We hope that the discussion of our method and some of the 
criteria for selection set forth in the preceding section will help re- 
solve such issues. 


The literature on poverty and the poor describes the areas inhabited 
by the "lower-lowers” as severely lacking in community organization; 
that is, the voluntary associations usually found in many middle-class 
areas, whose purposes are to look after the collective interests and the 
commonwealth of the area in question, are not present. Conse- 
quently, it is difficult to locate and negotiate with “indigenous” lead- 
ers who can legitimately speak for, and make commitments on behalf 
of, area inhabitants. Even those local voluntary associations that can 
be found, for example, churches and social clubs, tend to be con- 
cerned with their own particular affairs and not with tlie neighbor- 
hood community or public interests in general. 

This is not to imply that the areas occupied by the poor are 
socially disorganized. Whyte (1943) and Cans (1962) both demon- 
strate that individuals in the slums are connected to each other in 
complicated networks of peer and kinship groups. However, organi- 
zations concerned with community affairs, both internally and in 
dealing with the larger society, are relatively rare. Cans, for example, 
notes the relative helplessness o